Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 8-8.5/10

Deadpool (2016)

Take this in your pipe and smoke it, Batman. Or any other superhero.

After a surgery to cure his cancer botches, Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is left brutally burned, chewed-up, left for dead and downright ugly. However, what the person who did all of this to Wade didn’t take into consideration was that he’d live to see another day and most importantly, his girlfriend Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin) and now not only wants to get his life back in order, but also wants revenge on the son-of-a-bitch who basically ruined his life. That’s why it’s Wade’s sole mission to track down and find Francis (Ed Skrein), the evil doctor who also has a sidekick of his own, Angel Dust (Gina Carano), someone who can kick ass, take names and chew toothpicks as if she’s Sly Stallone. But now that Wade realizes that he’ll almost never, ever come close to dying, he can now use his skills and talents for the greater good of society, or just to kill a whole bunch of bad people that want him and his girlfriend dead and not really worry about anyone, or anything else that may be in any particular danger.

The couple from hell. And all of a sudden, I really want to pay that place a visit.

The couple from hell. And all of a sudden, I really want to pay that place a visit.

Finally, after so very long, a Deadpool movie has come around and released for the whole world to see and, well, believe it or not, it’s actually pretty amazing. Though, to be honest, I didn’t know much about Deadpool to begin with, other than that he was supposed to be really funny and cool, like he sort of was in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but that was about it. So yeah, I’ll admit that the fanboy train for this didn’t really connect with me, until I eventually realized what it was: The superhero movie to end all superhero movies.

What Deadpool, the character as well as the movie, sets out to do is take the overly-familiar and, dare I say it, sometimes boring superhero genre that’s all too popular and conventional by now, and not just flip it on its side, but slap its ass, spit on its face, twists its arm, flip the bird at it, and end all of this pain on a lovely little one-liner for good measure. It’s basically the kind of superhero movie that Guardians of the Galaxy was, but instead of working within the confines of being a weird, but also appropriate superhero movie for all people of all ages, Deadpool clearly doesn’t give a flyin’ hoot about any of that, or anything. All it wants to do is tell its story, while also remind you just about every single second that you are indeed watching a movie, where really good-looking, talented actors are acting, everyone is getting paid (except for you), and it’s not exactly equipped with the biggest budget, so there’s obviously going to be less stars and big-names here and instead, just the cast it was able to fit in.

And you know what? I loved almost every second of what it was doing.

Not only is Deadpool funny in an incredibly subversive, overly meta way, but it also doesn’t forget about what makes itself a good movie in the first place. Sure, poking fun at the constructions of a superhero movie, as well as a movie in general is fine and all, but if you’re not giving me a good story in the meantime, then forget about all of your jokes. However, Deadpool, once again, the character, as well as the movie, wants to have its cake, eat it, and still have room for seconds, and it surprisingly works. While Deadpool himself will take time out of the movie to turn towards the camera, address the audience and tell everybody that “this is where the backstory begins”, what he’s also doing is introducing us to a solid, well-told story that, wouldn’t you know it, you get interested and compelled by.

Though Deadpool isn’t really working with any groundbreaking material in terms of its story, it’s a more jaded-version of Frankenstein, the movie still gives it its all and allows us to not just feel something for the characters involved, but the central love story that’s supposed to allow for this movie live and breathe. While it would have been easy to have the film be all about Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin, two very good-looking people, meet cute, have sex, fall in love and leave it at that without any further questions asked, the movie takes it one step further and actually shows how screwed-up and weird they are respectively, that when they come together, it’s like peanut butter and jelly.

Of course that peanut butter and jelly was probably left out in the open far too long, with flies on top of it and mold growing on it, but hey, you can still make a sandwich with it and sometimes, the sandwich is all you need.

Be nice to T.J. Miller! He's got a new season of Silicon Valley to film!

Be nice to T.J. Miller! He’s got a new season of Silicon Valley to film!

It doesn’t matter the quality of the ingredients, but as long as you have it and you can see it as a sandwich, then yeah, it’s fine.

That’s why Deadpool, deep down inside, as we’re told, is really a “love” story. It’s not trying to make any profound statement about the human heart, but rather, just giving us a believable romance between two people who not only have great chemistry, but really do feel like they could be together in a universe as weird and twisted as this. Baccarin is given a strong female character that goes beyond being the damsel in distress, can think and take care of herself, whereas Reynolds, as Deadpool/Wade Wilson is, well, perfection.

Sure, it was the role he was born to play, but it’s so much more than that. So often, whenever we see Reynolds show up in a movie, he’s depended on as being the wise-cracking, quick-witted comic-relief, and that’s about it. We’ve seen certain shadings of just what he can do as an actor before, but never to the furthest extent to where we’ve been like, “Wow. That Ryan Reynolds can sure as hell act.” He’s been good in movies before, but with Deadpool he gets to do so much and it’s just a pleasure to see him having the greatest time of his life. He’s not just a funny guy, but a smart one who we’re able to get behind, even when he does some reprehensible things throughout.

But yeah, he’s not the only one that Deadpool is all about, as there’s plenty more characters to shake a stick at and, believe it or not, they’re all pretty fun to be around that I wish I got more of them. T.J. Miller is, as the opening credits show, “the comedic-relief” and every scene he has, isn’t just funny, but really weird and off-kilter, just as the movie asks for; Ed Skrein, despite not being all that much to write home about in the Transporter reboot, is mean and unlikable as Francis, the villain, and it’s everything he needed to be; same goes for Gina Carano’s Angel Dust who is bad-ass; Stefan Kapičić as Colossus has more personality to him than you’d expect, even though he does always go on about being a “hero”; and Brianna Hildebrand, as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, is basically just another mopey, soft-spoken millennial, but she’s fun about it and seems to have a nice rapport with Deadpool, which makes her worth caring about.

But really, it’s all about Deadpool and why shouldn’t it be? He’s finally getting his own movie and it’s a pretty great one at that, so good for him and everybody else!

Consensus: A very hard R, but with good reason, Deadpool isn’t just hilariously subversive, but also features a solid superhero origin tale that we can get behind, even when it seems more concerned with commenting on movies and actors and all of that fun meta stuff.

8.5 / 10

Hopefully that's news of a sequel, but probably not!

Hopefully that’s news of a sequel, but probably not.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Roger & Me (1989)

Won’t be stopping by Flint any time soon. Or anywhere in Detroit, for that matter.

In the late 80’s corporate America is taking over and beginning to start a crack down of sorts on industrial inefficiencies. Meaning that some of the first casualties is the American factory worker, who live and breathe off of these factory jobs. Most importantly though, Flint, Michigan, where its residents would literally go to work at General Motors, build cars, bring home a paycheck and spend their earnings on food, rent and all the other expenses that people use in everyday life. However, it all began to change when General Motors decided that they could get more parts, and for cheaper labor, in other parts of the world like Mexico, which meant that they took themselves out of America and decided that it was time to close the factories down. This means that a lot of people lost their jobs, as well as their houses, and the city of Flint, overall, began to take a turn for the worse where the poor get poorer and the rich, when they aren’t having their Great Gatsby parties, are getting richer. While this is all happening, General Motors CEO Roger Smith is being praised by investors for helping out the bottom line, which is a point that Michael Moore does not stand by one bit.

Pictured: The devil.

Pictured: The devil.

Michael Moore clearly loves America and there is no problem with this. He’s one of the very rare people who will stand by his country, make generalizations about other countries, and all the while, still question his own country about what it is that makes us so wonderful. Is it our democracy? Is it our ability to do whatever we want, at any time, as long as they stay within the legal parameters? Or, is it that we brought places like Burger King and McDonalds to the world for everyone to enjoy and grow morbidly obese from? No matter what the question, nor the answer may be, Michael Moore will never stop loving America and while a lot of people would feel better off without having someone like him representing our country, it’s still nice to see someone still as patriotic as he is.

At the same time though, Michael Moore is very preachy and it’s one of the main reasons why most of his documentaries work, most importantly, Roger & Me.

Roger & Me is the first instance in which people found out about Moore, what he could do, and just what he was all about. This was way before all of his recent documentaries came out and shook up the world – nobody knew of his radical left stances, his overly melodramatic narrations, his constant hammering of random subjects, his wild antics just to get a hard subject for an interview, etc. Nobody knew what to expect and in a way, it’s nice to look at the movie as some sort of time capsule of the beginning where Moore’s voice came out for the whole world to hear.

And while there’s a lot to Moore’s style that can be considered “annoying”, there’s no denying that he makes entertaining movies and knows how to frame a story to where, no matter where he goes, you’re following him just about the whole way through. With Roger & Me, it’s interesting to see how Moore uses Flint as a fill-in for the rest of America, where everyone is equal and able to do what they want, but at the same time, are still being tied down and ruined by the richer of society. The picture that’s painted of America, and especially Flint, is a very sad and depressed one, however, Moore himself tries to focus on more than just the sad aspects of life and more or less, remind everybody about some of the joys of life.

At the same time though, it’s hard not to feel a slight bit of uneasiness when watching Roger & Me because, all of these years later, we know that nothing’s changed in Flint, or in America and, for the most part, has gotten worse.

That’s why, when Moore focuses on random people in the movie like a rabbit herder, a former policeman who now evicts people from their homes, 1988’s Miss America, the dirty and surprisingly perverted Bob Eubanks, and countless others, it’s hard not to feel sad. Of course, Moore is using a lot of these interviews as strictly comedy and to point the finger at some people for their sheer stupidity, but there’s an underlying sense of seriousness that makes it all the more shocking. We know that Moore doesn’t know what to make of the whole situation with Flint, or with America and because of that, the answers never seem to come easy, or ever around. Instead, there’s just a lot of beating around the bush of the question and times where it seems like Moore’s mind gets taken elsewhere.

Pictured: Hell.

Pictured: Hell.

This is all fine, of course, because where Moore takes us and how, can sometimes be exciting than anything anybody has to say here. For instance, there’s a small glimpse into the lives of the very rich people of Flint where, when they aren’t holding fancy, over-the-top Great Gatsby balls, they’re paying $100 to stay in the new, state-of-the-art jail. It’s actually quite shocking to see that people like this still exist, but at the same time, have absolutely no clue of what’s going on around them and it’ll make you wish that they’d just give their money away to either people who need it, or that they don’t have it at all.

Still though, Roger & Me always comes back to Michael Moore, which isn’t a huge surprise, but it also shows that he has a point with his movie. What Moore wants to say is that while the big companies may try to tear the American working-class down, it’s up to everybody in the world to not just depend on themselves, but find anyway that they can to survive and still make a profit. Sometimes, this can take one person down a very scary, almost immoral alleyway, but it’s the only way a person can survive.

It doesn’t have to be fine, it just has to be.

Consensus: As is usually the case with Michael Moore’s documentaries, most of them have an angle from the very beginning, but nonetheless, Roger & Me is still an entertaining, compelling and sometimes upsetting look inside Flint and most importantly, America, what makes it work, what makes it tick, and what makes it sometimes so sad to live in.

8 / 10

Pictured: A true patriotic nut.

Pictured: A true patriotic nut.

Photos Courtesy of: Pyxurz

The Look of Silence (2015)

People who do bad things, tend to not think that they did anything bad.

A few years ago, Joshua Oppenheimer made a documentary about the Indonesian killings that took place in and around time years of 1965 and 1966, in which people who were accused of being “communists” were all killed and sometimes, never heard from again. What was so strange about all of this, though, was how the people who actually went out and savagely murdered these so-called “communists”, were never put on trial or convicted for what were, seemingly, crimes. Instead, they continue to walk the Earth and live free among any all citizens, most of whom’s relatives, they either killed, or had a hand in killing. That’s why, in 2013, Oppenheimer decided to focus on these murderers, their viewpoints, and recollections of events in the Act of Killing. Now, Oppenheimer wants to turn his camera onto the other side of the discussion where we sit and watch as Adi, middle-aged man, who’s brother, Ramli, apparently was killed during this time, goes around and confronts the known killers for doing what they did and trying his hardest to understand why they did any of it. Obviously, the answers are a lot harder to come by.

60 Minutes with Adi is definitely something I can get behind.

60 Minutes with Adi is definitely something I can get behind.

The Act of Killing was a very rough watch, for many reasons. One was that it was really hard to sit there and listen to a bunch of known and celebrated killers, basically bragging about all of the people they killed, and do so in some very descriptive, especially gory ways. It’s hard to listen to a guy boast about how many girls he’s slept with, but it’s even harder to listen to someone, who is still walking free mind you, go on and on about people they murdered, the reasons why they did it, and why they feel absolutely no shame or guilt whatsoever.

Another reason why that movie was such a hard watch, too, was the fact that Oppenheimer doesn’t just leave the movie at that point. Instead, he takes it one step further in allowing us to see their inner psyche, as well as their realization with everything that they had done, the pain they caused, and just the actual number of supposed “communists” they had in fact, killed. In a way, that movie wasn’t really asking us to sympathize with these retched and terrible human beings, but more or less to see them as actual human beings.

Was it hard to do? Oh, of course it was!

Did it ultimately work out, though? Somehow, yes.

That’s why with the Look of Silence, Oppenheimer’s viewpoint not only changes, but so does the impact his movie has on the audience. Now, we have someone to sympathize with. Now, we have better questions being asked. And now, most of all, we get to see these countless killers actually get everything thrown in their face, just as they deserve to. While Oppenheimer went to some risky and daring places with the material and footage he was able to get with the Act of Killing, here, he takes a step back and allows for the would-be protagonist, Adi, take over the reigns as interviewer and provocateur, and it really works.

Not only is Adi a sympathetic figure, regardless of what we know about his family and their history, he actually seems like a pretty level-headed guy, even despite the situation he’s been thrown into. All things considered, he could have easily grown-up angry, pissed-off and ready to blow people’s heads away, knowing what he knows about what happened to his brother, but instead, he decided to push all that to the side, focus on the future, and remember that he’s got his own life to live and legacy to maintain, which means that he had to get used to seeing a lot of his brother’s killers, sometimes for work, and other times, just for social situations. It’s actually ridiculous just how much of a tolerance that Adi and, I assume, others need to have when it comes to living in Indonesia, but it also drives home the point that, sometimes, it’s best to just leave things in the past.

In this situation, however, that is not the case.

He even makes glasses for these guys! Why is he so nice!

He even makes glasses for these guys! Why is he so nice!

Adi really does level in to these cast of characters, all of whom are either the killers themselves, or close relatives of said killers, going deeper and further than you’d expect him to go. Sure, his interview style can tend to get very predictable – he starts off with a few softball questions, asks the big, “Why”, shows evidence proving that the killers did in fact, “kill”, they get pissed-off, threaten his life, and the rest starts to teeter-off from there in awkward, but revealing silences. Still though, each and every interview is more and more insightful than the one to come before it, especially when we start to see just how obtuse a lot of these killers are to admitting, face to face, with another person that they had a hand or two in killing a family member. One whom Adi never had the chance to meet, unfortunately enough, but it makes even more sense why he would sink to the certain depths that he does here, trying to scourge up any information he can from these killers, as well as the information left over from the previous movie.

That said, there’s a feeling that the Look of Silence ends at a very abrupt moment. However, this could be intentional.

Seeing as how the movie is, essentially, about the many, countless lives lost in this mass holocaust of sorts, it only makes sense that there’s hardly any “moving forward”, or “looking past” moment; people have died, everybody left on Earth is still around, suffering and sad, and the tension is still felt. While Adi himself realizes that it’s best to look towards the future, he also knows that in order to grow stronger as a community, it’s also best to remember the sort of tragedies and wrong-doings that have been done, in a way to make sure that they never occur again.

Of course, I could also be talking about Germany, the U.S., or any other country out there who has dealt with one moment in their nation’s history that they frown upon and remind its citizens of its significance, but in this particular discussion, Adi reminds Indonesia that not only did his own brother die for, what seem to be, idiotic accusations based nowhere in reality, but remind others as well. That’s why these questions need answers, even if they never actually come. Maybe that’s the point: Life will continue to go on for most of these people, with questions still hanging in the air and over their heads. Nobody will answer them. They’ll just continue to live life, hope it all gets better, and people eventually forget about what happened.

Problem is, nobody will.

Now, who’s fault is that?

Consensus: More emotional and tragic than the its predecessor, the Look of Silence is also, unfortunately, more frustrating with questions intentionally never being answered, but plenty of ideas about society and the human condition still being brought up and left to dangle.

8 / 10

There's the future, everybody! Don't screw it up!

There’s the future, everybody! Don’t screw it up!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Burn After Reading (2008)

Never trust those who are “too fit”.

When CIA Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) gets demoted from his job, he decides that it’s time to start the proceedings on his memoir. Somehow, though, the disk containing all of this information falls into the hands of two gym employees, Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), both of whom clearly have no idea what they’re going to do with this disk. But they both have the right idea to blackmail Cox for some money, even if they don’t know how to go about it, nor what the actual proceedings are. Meanwhile, Linda herself is in search of a better life that isn’t just working in the gym. Currently, she’s trying to fund her cosmetic surgeries, as well as someone to love in her life. Through various dating websites, she meets the charming and likable Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), and the two hit it off immediately. Strange thing is that Harry, despite being married, also happens to be shackin’ up with Osborne’s wife (Tilda Swinton), which leads the whole situation to end up in some real weird, sticky situations, sometimes with them leading to violence and all sorts of bloodshed.

"Malkovich? Malkovich?"

“Malkovich? Malkovich?”

At this stage in their career, the Coen brothers can practically do anything that they want and nobody is going to tell them otherwise. They have enough Oscars under their belt, have made their studios enough money, and have earned enough respect in the biz to say that they want to make about anything, and everybody will fall for it, hook, line and sinker. As is the case with most writers and directors, they’ve had some mediocre films, as well as some amazing films, but mostly, they’ve made films worth checking out and taking time out of one’s day to watch, because a Coen brother’s movie is, quite frankly, better than a lot of other stuff out there.

And Burn After Reading is the exact reason why they are so beloved.

Though, at the same time, the movie doesn’t show the Coen brothers really working with anything new, or ground-breaking; instead, they’re taking on the whole spy genre, making a farce out of it, and rather than having real, actual spies involved, the movie’s just about a bunch of regular, everyday people who are, yes, goofy and sometimes idiotic. However, they are all searching for the same thing: Money and power. To the Coens, this is perhaps the most interesting aspect about the human-condition, in which seemingly normal people, can be driven so ridiculously mad by the prospect of wealth, that they’d do almost anything to achieve it and rule their own little world.

At the same time, though, rather than being all sad and serious about it, the Coens add a lighter touch onto that whole idea, giving us characters that aren’t just colorful and likable, but also interesting. Sure, some of these characters may come off as very schticky and thin, but the Coens also show how that they’re personalities make who they are and determine every decision that they make throughout the movie. Some characters are, obviously, smarter than others, but nobody here is actually a good person, and there’s something inherently fun and entertaining in watching all of these characters get caught in a crazy web of lies, murder and deception, just for the hell of it.

It also helps that the cast is pretty great, too.

As usual, the Coens work with some of their own regulars who, by now, have mastered the art of the “Coen speak”. George Clooney is exciting, but also very weird as Harry, who always seems to have an issue with the food he eats, as well as an odd obsession with wood-panels; Frances McDormand’s Linda is a total polar opposite of what we’re used to seeing her play, giving us a naive, sometimes sad character who always tries to stay upbeat, no matter what the situation may call for; and Richard Jenkins, as Linda’s boss who can’t seem to stop falling over her, makes you want to give him a hug just about every scene he’s involved with.

We get it, Brad: You're really in-shape!

We get it, Brad: You’re really in-shape!

But the newcomers to the Coen’s also handle their material well and show why they deserve to be in their movies a whole lot more. John Malkovich does a lot of cursing and yelling as Osborne, and it’s so much fun to watch and listen that I didn’t care if his character didn’t get as developed as I would have liked; Tilda Swinton’s character is a bit bitchy and mean, but also seems like she’s got more going onto her that would have been interesting to see developed more, but for what it is, this is all we get and it’s fine; and Brad Pitt, well, let’s just say he sort of steals the show. Not only does Brad Pitt seems like he’s so eager and excited to be apart of a Coen brother’s movie, but he also seems like he really wants to see what’s more to this character that he’s playing – something that isn’t quite seen in the rest of the movie.

Pitt’s Chad, for the most part, doesn’t really care about gaining any sort of money or respect, he’s just around for the fun of it all. That’s clear from the very beginning, once we realize that there’s a certain zaniness and energy to him that’s hard to ignore. This is mostly all thanks to Pitt who, using his grace and charm, shows that while a meat-head like Chad can be lovable, he can also be one you sort of feel bad for, once the situation he’s involved with gets to be a bit too crazy and over-the-top for his own good. There’s something about Chad that I wanted to see more of, but really, what I got was fine enough.

And that’s basically all that there is to say about Burn After Reading: It’s fine, and although you wish you saw more, that’s all you really need.

But hey, don’t just listen to me, let J.K. Simmons tell you all about it.

Consensus: Though it’s not exactly breaking down any barriers, Burn After Reading still finds the Coen brothers in a fun, hilariously wicked spirit that maintains their sense of odd energy the whole way through.

8 / 10

How can these two not have a ball together?

How can these two not have a ball together?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, IFC

45 Years (2015)

A lot can happen in 45 years.

Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) has been with her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay), for many years – 45 to be exact. So that’s why, after a slight mishap five years ago, they’re getting ready and prepping-up to celebrate the 45th anniversary of their wedding, with a big ball full of friends, booze, food, and dancing. And while it’s a very joyous time for the couple, something from Geoff’s past comes back to life and not only disrupts his life, but also Kate’s. All of a sudden, a lover from Geoff’s past has been found dead in the Alps, which leaves Geoff wondering just where or what his life would have been, had he decided to stick with her and not get married to Kate. As a result of this, Kate herself starts to question her own marriage and life with Geoff, realizing that she may not be the ultimate woman and also trying to come to terms with the fact that this is not only the man she’s spent a huge portion of her life with, but probably will for the rest of it.

Men are always focusing on food, whereas the women are always spent looking out into the air.

Men are always focusing on food, whereas the women are always spent looking out into the air.

There’s really not a lot going on in 45 Years, except for Charlotte Rampling and everything that she puts into it. It’s probably no surprise to anyone who’s paid attention to film over the past decades, to know and understand that Rampling is a great actress. It doesn’t matter what she shows up in, for no matter how long or short, Rampling comes, she conquers, and she reminds you why great actresses like her still exist.

That’s why it’s probably no surprise she got nominated for an Oscar (for the record, we hope she proves these prognosticators wrong.)

However, it’s not just her who makes the movie great, as writer/director Andrew Haigh does what he seemed to do with Weekend and the cancelled-too-soon Looking, and that’s give us simple, small tales about simple, small people, and yet, not make them simple. Rather than just giving us a story about a wife and husband trying to connect after being together for nearly 45 years, Haigh takes it up one notch and gives us a reason to see why these characters deserve our attention and thoughts. While it’s a bit silly that the recent news of a person’s death is what causes all of these issues so coincidentally, it still works because Haigh takes his time with these character, this situation, and most importantly, their lives.

After all, while watching 45 Years, we never forget the fact that we’re watching two characters, who have been living and loving one another for so very long, are still doing the same thing. Obviously though, they’re older, more tired, and perhaps, more bored with one another. However, rather than making all of this seem like a slog to wade through, Haigh makes sure the smallest bit of detail catches our attention and have us think, even when it seems like nothing’s happening at all. These two could just be sitting there, having tea, talking about past times, certain people they do, or don’t like, and/or just doing nothing at all but staring into space, and still, there’s something interesting about watching it all happen.

In a way, it’s as if we’re watching a documentary of two people who have been together for so very long, just live life.

This seems to be the exact feeling Haigh is aiming for and it works make this situation, as well as these characters, more relatable and universal. It’s interesting that Haigh, someone who was pegged as “the next big voice for Queer cinema”, decided that he didn’t want to be pigeon-holed and give his own take on a relationship that, quite frankly, anyone could have. It’s also worth noting that it’s great to see a movie about two near-70 characters, who love one another and aren’t really doing much other than just discussing their past and soon-to-be future. While most studios feel as if these aren’t the kinds of stories that get butts into the seats, they’re still probably the most honest and, above all else, sad, because well, this is how we’re all going to end up one day, if we’re lucky.

Whether or not it makes money, shouldn’t really matter, but such is the case as to why we don’t really get many movies like 45 Years.

And yet, at the same time, the movie still comes back to Charlotte Rampling and what she’s able to do with this performance as Kate Mercer.

Oh, Char. Take it easy, girl.

Oh, Char. Take it easy, girl.

From the very beginning, we don’t know much about Kate, other than that she loves her husband, her house, and her dog, and that’s about it. But as time goes on and the movie develops, we start to realize that she’s in desperate need in something out of her life; even though she’s older and has seen all that she’s needed to see, she still feels underdeveloped in some way, shape, or fashion. That’s why, when this tragedy from her husband’s past comes back into the fray, she doesn’t really know what to do or make sense of, so therefore, she tries her hardest to depend on herself for just about anything she needs.

And Rampling, even with the smallest look in her eye, tilt of her head, or walk in a general direction, she makes you think. You never know full well what’s going on in this character’s head and it’s hard to imagine what a lesser-actress would have done with such a non-showy role such as this, but that’s why we have actresses like Rampling to remind us why she deserves every role she gets. It should be noted that Tom Courtenay does a solid job as her husband, too, but really, he’s here to frustrate and anger Kate, as well as she he should. In a way, he sort of becomes unlikable and unsympathetic, but then you get to thinking, too: He’s also got to be thinking of how it feels to have spent the past 45 years with this one woman and one woman only.

In some ways, it feels like 45 Years should have been, or at least, could have been that movie. Though it’s great to see the movie focus in on Kate and her issues, it still would have been great to know and understand just what it was that Geoff was going through, especially considering his situation is all the more tragic. Perhaps we would have had a longer movie? Or maybe, even a better movie?

Who knows?

All I know is that, even though she won’t win, Charlotte Rampling definitely makes the case for the Best Actress Oscar.

Consensus: With thoughtful, heartfelt writing, and a superb performance from Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years is a slow, but interesting look at marriage, as complicated as it may be.

8 / 10

45 years? Maybe too much time.

45 years? Maybe too much time.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

Good thing this movie wasn’t bad.

Shaun is a sheep who, for the longest time, has been forced to do the same thing each and everyday. He’s always made to stay within the confines of the fences around him, allowed to play with his fellow other sheep, and at the end of the day, get sheered and continue on with the next day. However, one day, sick and tired of just doing the same crap day in and day out, Shaun decides to take the day off and have some fun for once. However, Shaun gets a lot more than just fun and is now realizing that perhaps breaking from the schedule maybe wasn’t the best idea. There’s a small mix-up with the Farmer, a caravan, and a hill that lead Shaun, as well as the rest of the flock to the Big City and now, it’s being left up to Shaun to gather up the flock and the Farmer, and return safely to home, all safe, sound, and in one piece.

One sheep.

One sheep.

There’s not much of a plot to Shaun the Sheep, nor does there need to be – it’s just fine in its own, simple skin where it isn’t asking much of its audience to follow along with, but still pay attention. For instance, due to the fact that this is an Aardman piece, it goes without saying that there’s a bunch of small jokes, visual gags, and bits of humor that need some sort of attention from the brain to not just understand, but actually laugh at. Sure, the animation itself is great to look and still, even after all these years, impressively original, given the general landscape of the world of animation, but really, it’s the jokes here that set Aardman apart from the rest of the competition.

And with Shaun the Sheep, they can rest safely knowing that their streak has not been broken.

As is the case with most of Aardman pictures, the humor can be considered easily accessible to all parties who decide to check this out. Because a good portion of the audience who will want to actually see this are in fact, little kids who don’t really get certain jokes, or pay attention at all, it would make sense that they’d be given all the usual slapstick that you’d expect them to laugh and point at. But Aardman takes it one step further and also doesn’t forget about the adults who are mostly dragged-out to see these movies and give them a little something to laugh and point at in their own right.

However, unlike other comedies like Shrek or Despicable Me, they aren’t given a bunch of modern-day pop-culture references that would show the creators as being “hip” and “with the times”, but instead, just witty jokes that continue to build and build and build. Eventually, yes, there’s a pay-off to a lot of these jokes and while they don’t always land as well as certain others, they do, for the most part, all bring a chuckle or two to the movie and shows what can happen when you put just a bit more thought into writing humor. It’s not just how funny the end of the joke is, or what it’s punchline is, it’s how you get to said punchline, as well as what you’re able to do to try an distract the audience so that they can be surprised when said punchline does arrive and actually makes them laugh.

I’m definitely putting a lot more thought and process into Shaun the Sheep‘s humor than I probably should, but so be it.

Two sheep.

Two sheep.

The people behind Shaun the Sheep clearly care for their product and aren’t just trying to cash in on some sort of name-brand that will either be appealing to kids and families, or their target audience. Yes, they know that the people who have been coming to see their movies for years, will continue to do so because they know that their brand of animation is far more smarter and thoughtful than most others out there (aka, crap like Norm of the North), but they also do realize that other people who don’t pay attention to the substance and effort they put into their movies, may want to go see the movies as well, mostly due to the fact that their animation. But instead of dumbing themselves down to the highest-bidder, they keep with their original identity, and keep things fun, exciting, lovely, and most importantly, hilarious.

And sure, Shaun the Sheep may not be the key piece of animation that Aardman proves its dominance with, but it’s an obvious sign as to why they do still work, given all of the movies they’ve done. Kids love to watch the goofy-looking characters fall, do silly things, hurt themselves quite a lot, and yet still get back up, whereas parents love to watch them set jokes up, continue to add more to said jokes, and then, at the end, deliver on them. In other words, everybody’s a winner with Aardman’s movies and it makes me, a film-lover, happy to know that there are people out there who still care for animation and aren’t just leeching off name recognition or popularity – if anything, they’re just trying to give the people what they want, as well as staying dedicated to the die-hard who continue to come back to them, time and time again.

Now if only Pixar remained that faithful.

Consensus: Shaun the Sheep is another piece of Aardman animation that not only looks great, but also flows nicely, is funny for all ages, and perfect for the whole family to sit down, not watch for too long, and enjoy – something all animation should be.

8 / 10

So....many...sheee...zzzzzz

So….many…sheee…zzzzzz

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The End of the Tour (2015)

Writers hate writers. So don’t be one.

In 1996, David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) was a writer for Rolling Stone and was in desperate need of a story to make his mark on, or better yet, get his name out there with. He found this in the form of novelist David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel) who, through his novel Infinite Jest, was receiving all sorts of praise and attention. And to promote this book even more than it needed to be, Wallace is forced to go out on a book-tour, which he invites Lipsky to the final day of. Initially, Lipsky and Wallace don’t seem to really know how to talk to one another or get around the fact that they’re both writers, and one is writing a story on the other. There’s a lot of awkward sighs and pauses between the two, which may be mostly due to the fact that Lipsky can’t help but be enamored by Wallace’s presence he holds both on the page, as well as off of it. But once personal issues of Wallace’s past, family and themes get brought up, it brings out a whole other side that Lipsky doesn’t want to believe is true or see, but also can’t deny is there and be scared of.

Lipsky likes Wallace.

Lipsky likes Wallace.

I’ll admit it, I’ve never read or purchased Infinite Jest and honestly, I don’t know if I have any intentions on doing so. It’s not that the length of the book scares me (after all, I sat through all 500-plus pages of Glamorama and didn’t complain), but it’s more of the dedication it takes to not just get through all of the pages, but also to appreciate the genius of David Foster Wallace for all that he was, or, from what I’m told he was. Basically, one day, when I’m older, a tad bit wiser, and don’t have much going on in my life other than just sitting around and wondering, waiting for the next show to binge-watch, then yeah, I’ll find a copy, sit down, and read all of Infinite Jest in its entirety. But, like I said, for now, all I have to base any respect on is what people say about Wallace and the book itself.

And that’s kind of the beauty of the End of the Tour: You don’t really have to know anything about Foster Wallace or Lipsky to become enamored with either personas or what they’re saying – they’re interesting enough as is that it doesn’t matter what it is they may be discussing or be delving into, all we want to do is hear them talk more and more.

This is why writer/director James Ponsoldt really does deserve a lot of credit – not only is he tacking subject-material and a story that may be very limited to a certain kind of audience, but he’s also trying to find a way to make these subjects themselves accessible and compelling enough to watch, even if we don’t already know anything about them to begin with. Right from the very beginning, there’s this feeling that Ponsoldt has a good idea of who each of these two guys are that, when they get together to conduct this so-called “interview”, they’re really just chewin’ the fat and enjoying every second, which is why we sort of do the same. It’s the kind of movie where smart, talented people, talk to one another, but instead of sounding like total and complete pretentious a-holes when discussing the meaning of life and Sternheim, they sound like interesting, sometimes funny fellas who may have some actual insight into the way the world works, as well as movies like Die Hard or Broken Arrow.

But what always keeps the End of the Tour moving, when it isn’t just focusing on these two chatting about their lives and careers, is that this is all happening because of an “interview” – one of which makes both of these guys pretty damn awkward. That Lipsky is already jealous of Foster Wallace for all of the fame and fortune he has seemingly gotten because of the book’s success, already not only draws him to the person, but also to the legend of who this guy really is. At the same time, however, he still has to do this interview with the guy, which tends to lead to the tense moments where he has to put away his hat of admiration, put back on his journalist one, and try to get the deepest, darkest secrets out of this guy, while at the same time, still not trying to offend him enough to where the interview is over and Lipsky has lost someone he could actually call “a friend”.

Wallace likes Lipsky.

Wallace likes Lipsky.

Same goes for Foster Wallace who, yes, is the one being interviewed, but also finds it quite comforting to actually be able to sit down and talk to someone who is actually interested in what he has to say, as well as understand all that he’s talking about. Still, because Foster Wallace was a very odd person and was reportedly on anti-depressants, he didn’t know what to say, or not to say to Lipsky and that tends to lead him to the same area where he doesn’t know if saying a lot is too much, or if saying nothing at all is fine, even if a bit rude.

Still though, despite this obvious issue between the two, they still clearly want to be great friends and adversaries, even if they’re only together for three or so days, due to this “interview”.

And it should be said that yes, Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg, other than being great in their own rights, share a wonderful bit of chemistry here that makes us cherish these two moments together all the more. Even though there’s always that discomforting sense of distrust between the two, there’s also the same feeling that, had they met under different circumstances, they would have been the very best of friends. Sure, they talk about everything in their lives, but also seem to be able to relate to one another in nice, funny ways that surprise even themselves. That’s why, it’s sometimes sad to see whenever the one gets uncomfortable and clearly not happy about something the other said or did; after all, the possibility of a meaningful friendship lies and it’s one that we actually want to see happen, even if we know, yes, it never did.

It’s sad, but oh so true.

Consensus: With two great performances from Eisenberg and especially, Segel, the End of the Tour gives both literary figures enough chemistry and persona to make their trip together not just an enjoyable one, but an interesting, if at times, weird one that ended way too soon and would, sadly, never happen again.

8.5 / 10

They both like one another, however, they're both writers, so it's not meant to be.

They both like one another, however, they’re both writers, so it’s not meant to be.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015)

Can’t give anyone authority. Especially college bros.

In the 1970’s, Stanford University psychology professor Philip Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) conducted a psychological experiment that would forever have his name, as well as the study, remain in infamy and controversy. In the study, a handful of paid volunteers were picked to play “prisoners”, whereas another handful of paid volunteers were picked to play “guards”. Both groups were to simulate a prison in which the guards would treat the prisoners, just as guards would treat prisoners in any real life, day-to-day situation; they would pick-on, torment, toy, tease and punish the prisoners for doing whatever it is that they did, or basically, didn’t do. Because the guards are encouraged to go as far as they can without physically beating the hell out of any of the prisoners, most of the prisoners would tend to act-out and rebel a bit, even if they knew, in all honesty, it wasn’t going to do them any good. Watching all of this transpire, Zimbardo looks to find out why it is that people, when given the position of power, use it to their advantage and act the way they do, and why it is that the prisoners who are being powered-over, don’t fight back or ever question, “why?”.

"Lookin' at something, fellow former-child star?"

“Lookin’ at something, fellow former-child star?”

Movies like the Stanford Prison Experiment are very lucky that everything that they depict, are basically what happened. While the movie states that it is, “based on a true events”, for the most part, it actually is; there’s a few bits of dramatic licensing taken here, most of which, are incredibly obvious and a bit unnecessary. However, everything that seems to be shown in the film, actually appears to have happened and is one of the main reasons why such a study as this still stays in people’s discussions, even after 44 years of it actually being performed. But the main reason why people like us, you know, millenials and hipsters and whatnot, are still talking about this social experiment is because, well, it will always stay relevant, no matter what happens to the world around us.

For instance, what the social experiment, as well as the movie itself, brings up about humans is how, when we’re given just a little bit of power or control in our grubby paws, we will, mostly, run wild with it and take absolute advantage of every second we’re granted security of that strength. Others, of course, will say to themselves, “Ah, who cares. Everybody’s equal, so why should it matter who is considered ‘better’ than others?”, but really, it’s the opposite side of the coin that’s perhaps the most disturbing and thought-about position that really makes a social experiment like this ring so true.

And yeah, the experiment itself, is also basically why the Stanford Prison Experiment works as well as it does.

Because it’s focused solely on the actual study itself – one that was already tense, unpredictable and compelling to begin with – it would only serve it justice to give the movie based off of its events, the same treatment. That a solid portion of the movie takes place in one, narrow hallway, already puts director Kyle Patrick Alvarez in a bit of a tough position where he needs to keep things exciting, but at the same time, not go too overboard with it. Rather than trying to make sense of some of these character’s decisions or choices, no matter how questionable they may get, he just shines a light up to them and lets them tell their own stories. Obviously, there are certain situations and predicaments that occur here that are a bit over-the-top, but still, there’s a ringing sense of truth throughout that works and keeps the movie engaging, even when it seems to be just the same thing happening, over and over again.

But like I said before, the reason why this experiment is still so talked about, is because it puts you, yourself, in the position of these people and make you wonder one thing: What would you do? Had you been put into the position of the guard, would you have just not cared, gone through the motions, and just be around to accept your money when all was said and done? Or, would you savor this moment, piss the “prisoners” off, basically torture them every step you get, and constantly remind them of who is in-charge, while at the same time, driving them slowly, but surely, crazy?

Those are the looks of some very guilty people.

Those are the looks of some very guilty people.

And hell, while we’re at it, what would you do as a prisoner? Would you just take it all, keep it all to yourself, and constantly remind yourself that “this is just an experiment”? Or, would you go crazy and try your absolute hardest to get the hell out of said “prison”, as soon as possible, by any means necessary? The movie, just like the experiment itself, brings these questions up, doesn’t know whether to answer the questions or not, but instead, just let them make a point for themselves.

In ways, you don’t know how people would act when thrown into these positions, which is what makes the Stanford Prison Experiment all the more shocking.

Though, there is something to be said for the later-part of the movie where it becomes clear that this experiment may have gone a tad too long, and all we’re doing is waiting around and watching as a bunch of young adults, torture and play around with other young adults. While we know that a fine amount of what’s depicted here in the film, actually did happen, by this point, when the two-hour mark has been well hit, it starts to become like overkill where we understand what the movie is trying to say, but can’t help itself from going further and further. This is less of a problem with the actual experiment itself, and more of on the movie, but still, it goes without saying that there’s only so much pain one can consume over a certain amount of time.

Which is, once again, probably something to be said about humans and makes me trust everybody a whole lot less.

Consensus: Thought-provoking, tense and somewhat enraging, the Stanford Prison Experiment takes an infamous study, gives it the nonjudgmental light it deserves, and allows for us, the audience, to think about what they’d all do in the same situation.

8 / 10 

It's like fraternity hazing, but instead, everybody's getting paid and losing their minds a whole lot more.

It’s like fraternity hazing, but instead, everybody’s getting paid and losing their minds a whole lot more.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Anomalisa (2015)

Life sucks. But hey, at least you have groupies.

Michael Stone (David Thewlis) in all honesty, doesn’t live a very grand life. Though he’s famous in some circles, it’s only because he’s written a few books that just so happen to be on the exciting and exciting subject of customer service. Also, he doesn’t really know how to connect with the world around him, which means that strangers, friends and even if his own family, he has an issue of connecting with. In other words, Michael is clinically depressed, but he just doesn’t know it quite yet. He’s getting older, fatter and starting to regret decisions that he’s made in the past, which mostly all come down to past girlfriends he dumped or had to let go. However, one fateful night, he runs into a lonely woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who changes his view of the world and opens his eyes to the beauty that exists with the smaller things in life. Because through Lisa, Michael is capable of figuring out just what it is that he wants to do with his life, while, at the same time, realizing that he needs to work on his issues and make himself better.

He sees the light. And the light shows that people will continue to disappoint him.

He sees the light. And the light shows that people will continue to disappoint him.

Or then again, maybe not. After all, this is a Charlie Kaufman movie and Charlie Kaufman protagonists tend to not really give a crap about their lives.

A lot of people don’t like Charlie Kaufman movies and I’m somewhere in the middle. I absolutely, positively love the hell out of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, whereas, on the other hand, I still don’t fully understand Synecdoche, New York, and it downright infuriates me. However, a lot of people (read: “fancy”) not just love it, but feel as if it’s an absolute life-changer that made them want to get up out of their seats, look at the sky and want to do something with their lives. As for me?

Well, I thought it was interesting, but when it was all done, that was about it. An interesting premise and interesting thoughts, sadly, does not make your movie a good one.

That’s why with Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman finds himself back to his old ways where it seems like he’s trying to say something deep and meaningful for each and every person to hear and understand, but isn’t trying too hard to disguise it in some over-bearing cloak of pretentiousness. Instead, Kaufman wants people to see his point for what it is, which is that life, in other words, kind of sucks. However, rather than just taking a stance and getting on his soap-box for the hell of it, Kaufman allows for Michael Stone (the most average-sounding name ever that makes me wonder if “John Smith” was already taken), to stand-in for him and shout everything out.

But what’s perhaps most interesting about the character of Michael Stone is that he isn’t really much of a loner, or anti-social weirdo – if anything, he’s just clinically depressed and continues to make frequent efforts to get out of that depression. However, because he finds even the smallest details in people to get pissed-off about, he decides to give up all hope and fall back into that depression. Does that make him a bad person? Nope, not really. Just an impatient one is all, which is why Kaufman doesn’t try his hardest to really have us sympathize or glorify this character, his actions, or the thoughts that seem to constantly run throughout his mind while he’s going about his day.

Oh and yeah, before I forget to mention it, Anomalisa is all in stop-motion animation where, instead of actual humans appearing on the screen, speaking and interacting with one another, it’s all puppets. And hell, instead of having a whole huge list of actors and stars, Anomalisa features only three actors’ voices, which may be a bit strange at first. Most of this is due to the fact that, well, there’s more than just three characters here – however, with the exception of Michael Stone and Lisa, everyone is voiced by Tom Noonan.

Confused yet?

The best puppet couple since Kermit and Miss Piggy.

The best puppet couple since Kermit and Miss Piggy.

Well, don’t worry, because I was, too. However, after awhile, like with most of Kaufman’s other movies, I decided to roll with it, give it a chance and see where it all went, which was a great decision on my part, because it truly allowed for me to just soak in how smart and crafty Kaufman can be, even when it seems like he’s not really trying to do anything at all. You could ultimately write Anomalisa up to being another movie where nothing happens, but that would be rather stupid; Kaufman takes ordinary, natural acts people commit in their everyday lives and with the help of the impressive animation, and makes them not just seem unique, but relatable.

For instance, the movie isn’t just about how Michael Stone hates everyone, so we should, too – it’s more about how this one person, one very depressed person, can’t seem to get out of the funk that he calls life. But rather than having us wish were spending time with someone else, in a much better situation, we sit down, watch and wonder what Stone is going to do next. Obviously, this doesn’t lead to many momentous actions (Stone drinks, showers, pees, talks on the phone, etc.), but there’s still something compelling about that all that makes it all worth while, even if it’s not fully well-known just where Kaufman is taking us.

And yes, this is to say that Kaufman handles the heart, the humor, and the absolute sadness of this script very well. The only instance in where I feel like Kaufman really loses his cool is by the very end where it becomes clear that he’s making a point with this story, but doesn’t really feel like holding back anymore, or even being subtle about it. In a way, Michael Stone is just like every other Kaufman protagonist (like I alluded to before), and he eventually starts to lose a bit of his marbles; this doesn’t ruin the movie, but it’s obvious from the very start and when it does eventually happen, it feels as if Kaufman himself knew that it was about time someone in his movie had something of a public melt-down. Either way, Kaufman continues to remind us that this isn’t a problem with life in general, but more or less, Michael Stone’s problem.

And quite frankly, it’s one that I would have been happy to see and hear more of.

Consensus: Thanks to a smart, sweet, and sometimes hilarious script from Charlie Kaufman, Anomalisa works both as a dramedy, as well as an animated flick that feels the need to give us a small story that’s easy to relate to, as well as think about for days.

8.5 / 10

Oh, cheer-up, Mikey. Life will get better once Charlie Kaufman's done writing about you.

Oh, cheer-up, Mikey. Life will get better once Charlie Kaufman’s done writing about you.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Ricki and the Flash (2015)

Cover bands are what capture the heart and soul of families.

Ricki Randazzo (Meryl Streep) is the lead singer/writer in her tacky cover band hailing from Tarzana. While it’s not a huge, big-time paying-gig by any means necessary, it’s one that makes Ricki happy enough to where she feels like she’s doing something with her life, living the dream, and at the same time, still having fun, as well. But one day, Ricki gets the call that her estranged daughter (Mamie Gummer) is going a bit coo-coo. Because her husband left her for another gal, she’s been left a hot mess, which is why Ricki gets the call to sort of save the day and talk her back down to reality. However, while all of this is occurring, she’s also getting back in-synch with the rest of her family that includes her stuck-up ex-husband (Kevin Kline), her one son Joshua (Sebastian Stan) who is actually set out to get married, and another son named Adam (Nick Westrate), who just so happens to be gay, something that cool, hip, and with-it Ricki, surprisingly isn’t all that about. While on this trip, Ricki realizes the family she left behind to make something of her music career, but also focus on those who mean a lot to her as well.

Like real life mother, like actual, real life daughter.

Like real life mother, like actual, real life daughter.

But still, no matter how heavy or serious things get, Ricki always finds a way to rock out with her side-braid out.

There’s something about the Ricki and the Flash that I want to hate, but for some reason, I just can’t bring myself to actually do said hating. Everything about it screams “wacky, quirky, but overly earnest family dramedy”, and the fact that it’s written by Diablo Cody is more than enough reason to make me shudder even more. Granted, I really enjoyed Juno and Young Adult, but a lot of her other material can tend to feel as if she’s just going through the motions of introducing cloying, almost annoying characters, giving us something small to relate to them with, and at the end, even despite all the dead-pan and one-liners, everybody still loves one another and wants to give each other hugs.

Yuck.

And a lot of Ricki and the Flash is like that, however, it’s the kind of big, gooey, warm hugs that may turn you off at first, but once you realize that the hug is fine and well-intentioned, then you decide to give in. And guess what? When you give in, all of a sudden, the hug becomes one of the coziest, most lovely feelings in the world that you almost never want to let go.

Ricki and the Flash is said hug and it’s why I’m shocked as to why so many people seem to be against it. For one, it seems like a lot of people have an issue with it being conventional and cliche, but really, there’s something more to this movie than that. Cody and director Jonathan Demme know and understand that a story like this is more than enough reason to despise white people till the end of time, but they also realize that there can be some actual heart and humanity within these white characters and their first world problems. Even though everybody may be upset and ticked-off that their not getting enough hugs and kisses before they go to bed, there’s still a feeling that said hugs and kisses mean a lot to them and for that reason, it’s hard to hate on them for that.

After all, what Cody does best with these characters is give us a reason to genuinely care about them and their said happiness.

At the beginning, Ricki seems like the type of washed-out, hip, older-women that may think she’s along with the times, but in actuality, really isn’t. Early on in the movie after we hear her rockin’ out to “American Girl” (which is pretty ironic, considering that this is a Jonathan Demme movie), she takes a few awkward jabs at Obama, then leads right into Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”, saying something along the lines of, “we’re told that we have to play something new for the younger folks out there”, and seeming as if she, along with the rest of the band, don’t want to play it and are absolutely bored out of their minds that they have to, in some form, conform to this teener-bopper pop that they call “art”. Though this may be quite early on and seem like a small detail, this means a lot in showing us just who this character is; the time’s are flyin’ by here, and while Ricki may not be willing or able to accept that, she’s still trying her hardest to get with it.

Oh, Rick. Still aching after Jessie's girl!

Oh, Rick. Still aching after Jessie’s girl!

Every other character has this same sort of small detail that makes them stand-out among the millions of other similar characters (in Diablo Cody films no less).

Kline’s ex-husband character may seem like a boring square who loves his money, his mansion, and his perfectly-knotted ties, but really, also likes to have a good time and is just trying to keep everything civil and sweet for this small, but meaningful family engagement; Mamie Gummer’s Julie may be depressed and despise her mom for walking out on her some time ago, but also still really loves her and knows that all of this heartbreak and pain is just temporary and it will, eventually, get better; Stan’s Joshua may be the typical “son who doesn’t want his mother to know he’s getting married”-character, but eventually, shows his true colors in that he does want her to know and come, he just doesn’t want to feel that sadness when she doesn’t show up because of, well, a gig or something; Westrate’s Adam may also hate his mom because of the abandonment he felt and her opposition to his liberal views, but really, seems to only be made at her because she hasn’t been there to sit down and chat with him about who he is and why; Audra McDonald’s Maureen (Kline’s character’s new wife), may initially come-off like an intimidating hell of a woman, but also, after a bit of backstory, we realize that she was, always and forever, there for children who weren’t hers to begin with and will continue to be there, no matter what; and Rick Springfield, believe it or not, is actually the true MVP of this film as Ricki’s main co-band-leader who has been with her through the thick and thin, genuinely loves and cares for her, and if anything, just wants her to wake up, smell the coffee, and realize that he’s the one she needs in her life at this point in time.

Sure, most of you may be wondering why I’ve put so much thought and attention to describing the characters of Ricki and the Flash, but I feel like that’s the only way you can go about making sense of why this movie works so well. Cody and Demme both set up each and every character as predictable as can be, but eventually, once the wheel start to turn and you see where it’s going, we realize that they’re doing more and flipping the script every so often. It may not be the big shocks that get you, but it’s the small ones that, surprisingly, work the most effective and stick with you long after the final note has been ripped.

Consensus: Despite the obvious and predictable story-line, there’s a lot about Ricki and the Flash that may initially seem like convention, but due to the heart and love Cody and Demme have for these characters, it gets turned on its side and becomes both affecting, as well as sweet.

8 / 10

Meryl Streep's probably going to win a thousand Oscars for this and she's like, "Long hair, don't care".

Meryl Streep’s probably going to win a thousand Oscars for this and she’s like, “Long hair, don’t care”.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Big Short (2015)

Now I literally have no clue what to do with my money.

The financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 will always and forever be considered one of the most heart-breaking, tragic moments in recent memory. But even though it may have came as a shock to most normal, everyday working people whose lives were affected the most, a few within the financial world saw it coming from a mile away and tried to do whatever it is that they could do to fix it all and stop it from happening in the first place. There’s Michael Burry (Christian Bale), a hedge fund manager who is definitely an odd person, but knows of the issue right away. Then, there’s Mark Baum (Steve Carell), another hedge fund manager who, along with his trusted band of confidantes, are trying to figure out what the problem is. And last, but certainly not least, Charlie Ledley (John Magaro) and Jamie Mai (Finn Wittrock), two friends and business partners who are risking all that they’ve got by going out there and making these issues open to generally anyone who will listen. But as they, as well as everyone else here finds out, it doesn’t matter how right you are about what’s set to happen, rich people won’t listen because they don’t want to think of losing their money, for whatever reasons.

Yeah. Just give up already.

Yeah. Just give up already.

One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the Big Short is that it’s dealing with some very challenging and dry topics. While I’m sure that everybody knows about the financial crisis of 2008 and has a general idea of what went down and why, nobody really knows for sure and that’s exactly what the Big Short sets out to do, which is already enough reason to run for cover, hold up one’s arms, wave that white flag, and give up all hope on ever being informed about anything ever again. After all, you, just like many other average citizens in this world, probably don’t have a single clue what yield curve, or synthetic CDO actually is – instead, you just know what you’re having for dinner, who the President of the United States is, and well, maybe, how many days are in a year. The housing market, banks, mortgages, and all of that other serious, financial stuff isn’t needed in everyday life, so why bother with hearing it at all?

Well, that’s why there’s something brilliant about the Big Short in that it understands all of these issues it may face with appealing to a bigger audience out there and does something totally out of the ordinary: It explains it all.

And by “explains it all”, I mean exactly that; rather than having the movie try its hardest to find a way to finagle in meanings of certain definitions through needless exposition, characters in the film will literally turn towards the camera, or use their narration, and tell you what something means, or have someone else who is perhaps more appealing to do the same. Yet, none of these people ever matter to the actual movie itself and more or less, just seem like glorified cameos, which is fine because, well, they absolutely are! That’s why, when seemingly out of nowhere, we get a scene of Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, telling us about subprime mortgage lenders, it’s definitely, but necessary and much-needed, so instead of throwing it away, you just learn to accept it, learn a few things in the process, and move right on along.

By the way, random celebrities showing up in the movie to explain something happens about three times in the movie, but it works each and every time because, well, it perfectly explains what we need to know about what happens to the housing market and why the U.S. economy was hit so hard. Co-writer and director Adam McKay is very smart allowing for the bulk of the film to just be about what’s going to happen and give us a general idea of why, and then allow for us to watch once all of the cards fall into place and how all of the people who notice it first, act and try to fix it all before it’s too late. Clearly, we know the ending, so the film’s spin on “based on a true story”, is actually quite funny, but that doesn’t take away from any of the tragedy, either.

Still, at the same time, McKay being a director with a heavy background in comedy (Anchorman, Step Brothers), understands that the best way to cope with a tragedy of any kind, is still add an element of funny, sometimes hard-hitting comedy, that makes the pill go down smoother. But whereas with McKay’s other films where it seemed like a lot of the comedy was just about how far certain actors could go to ad-lib without breaking a sweat, here, each and every actor spouts colorful and fiery line of dialogue as if Aaron Sorkin had written the script after he did a few lines. So this isn’t all to say that the Big Short’s funny, but it’s also quite hilarious and smart in that it’s created this all-too-real universe where people talk fast, walk fast, are fast with their comebacks and generally prefer to be harsh to one another because well, they have a lot of money and they can.

But once these people start to realize that all of their money, as well as a lot of other people’s, is going down the drain, they realize that there’s no more playing around and it’s time to knuckle up or shut up. Sad thing is, we know how the story ends and McKay does, too.

That’s why, he never allows for us to forget about it.

Some men, just want to watch the housing market burn.

Some men, just want to watch the housing market burn.

If anything, the Big Short shows who is to blame for the financial crisis, but at the same time, still doesn’t give any closure onto why those responsible let it go on for so long, nor does it resolve the issue of whether they knew about it forever and didn’t care, or if they were just too stupid to realize? Either way, the movie definitely points its long and hard finger directly at the shooter and it helps give a sense of satisfaction even if, you know, those same said baddies are the ones who ended-up getting away with it all. Still though, when watching all of this unravel, you almost forget about that fact and just allow for the story, as well as the characters, to tell itself.

That’s why it helps that the Big Short has such a talented ensemble who, even when it seems like they’re just speaking like my Economics professor, still add enough fun and flair to the proceedings, that they make it a little more compelling. Christian Bale’s Dr. Michael Burry is perhaps the only character who hardly ever moves from one location, but because Burry’s persona is based on weird tics and traits, Bale runs wild with the role and seems to be enjoying himself. Though he’s still enraged by what he’s seeing, there’s still a sense that Bale wants to be light enough to where it helps us get through this pain and sadness.

Same goes for Steve Carell as Mark Baum, someone who seems to live a lovely life inside this financial world, but at the same time, doesn’t want to sit so idly by, that he forgets about it all, either. Carell’s really enjoying this role here and it should be noted that, even despite all of the names and characters popping-up, he’s the clear star of the show and with good reason; not only is his character given the most backstory out of everybody else here, he’s also the most humane one out of the bunch. Though the whole dead-brother angle goes on a bit too long and is an obvious arc capable of being seen from a mile away, Carell still shoulders through it to where it’s okay – we just want to see him be more pissed-off and curse because Carell’s pretty good at that.

And well, for the matter, so is Ryan Gosling.

Gosling’s character, despite not being the meatiest of the bunch, is still probably the most memorable because he’s exactly what every young, rich and vain hotshot in the financial world probably is like. Gosling not only looks the part because he’s Ryan Gosling, but he’s also got the smooth charm and tongue to make him work all the more; while we’re never too sure if he’s a good or bad guy in this equation, we know that he definitely knows a whole lot about money and is capable of being trusted. That said, every scene he’s in, he steals and just about every line he delivers, is hilarious; even the scene where he describes the housing market with a Jenga set, while smart and interesting, is still funny because Gosling’s character is so in love with himself, you just know that he thinks it’s the most simple thing to ever explain. Even though we all know, for sure, it isn’t.

Brad Pitt shows up, too, as Ben Ricket, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do, except just serve Finn Wittrock and John Magaro’s characters bits of info that they need to make this story move more. Wittrock and Magaro are both great here and definitely give us a nice, small-time view of what this financial world looks like from the ground-up; because even though they don’t know it’s all going to crash just yet, we still wait and wonder to how they’re going to react and just how exactly it’s all going to affect them.

Because we know what happens to everybody else on the face of the planet, but what about these two schmucks?

Eh, who cares? The economy’s in the crapper and that’s all worth caring about.

Consensus: For all its difficult financial babble, the Big Short is, surprisingly, easy-to-comprehend in ways, well-acted by its huge ensemble, funny, and most of all, insightful into how this world works and why it all matters to what happened over seven years ago.

8 / 10

Get it yet?

Got it?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Next time a blizzard comes, stay away from the cabin with the most assassins.

In post-Civil War Wyoming, John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) escorts fugitive Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock, where she’ll be hung for committing all sorts of evil murders and crimes over the years. However, along the way, they encounter a bounty hunter by the name of Major Marquis “The Bounty Hunter” Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who is also heading out to Red Rock to get money for a few criminals he killed himself. Ruth allows for Warren to hop aboard, but they soon realize that a deadly blizzard is coming their way. With this information known, they decide to hold out in a little comfortable and cozy cabin where everybody knows and loves called “Minnie’s Haberdashery”. There, the three meet a few shady, but altogether, colorful characters who may, or may not, be up to any good or actually be who they appear to be. There’s Bob “The Mexican” (Demián Bichir), who claims to be one of Minnie’s helpers, even though they’re nowhere to be found; Chris “The Sheriff” Mannix (Walton Goggins), claims to be the soon-to-be sheriff of Red Rock; Oswaldo “The Little Man” Mobray (Tim Roth), is another one who claims to be the soon-to-be hangman of Red Rock; Joe “The Cow Puncher” Gage (Michael Madsen), claims to be just a lonely ol’ cowboy looking to spend the holidays with his mommy; and ex-General Sanford “The Confederate” Smithers (Bruce Dern), well, doesn’t claim to be much of anyone. He’s just holding out and waiting for this storm to pass, which is what everyone else seems to be doing, until it becomes clear that someone is up to no good and needs to be taught a lesson.

Sort of bad-ass.

Sort of bad-ass.

Quentin Tarantino makes the sort of movie he wants. Nobody’s going to tell him “no”, nor will anyone tell him “how” – they’ll just hand him a bunch of money, plenty of freedom, and see what happens. Due to this, his movies can tend to sometimes feel overlong and excessive, which is why, when it turned out that the Hateful Eight was going to be over three hours, with a short, 10-to-12 minute intermission, automatically, most people will be turned off, as well as they should.

However, here’s the funny thing about the Hateful Eight – it’s actually pretty deserving of its three hour run-time.

Much of this is due to the fact that Tarantino doesn’t try to, in any sort of way, shape, or fashion, rush the plot here – instead, he takes his time to give us those delicate, but juicy character-moments we oh so appreciate and adore from someone as immensely talented as he is. Nobody really breaks into a conversation that feels useless, unnecessary, or unneeded – everybody here has a reason to talk about what they want to talk about and, honestly, it’s hard to not be intrigued by them right away. After all, this is Tarantino’s dialogue and as is the case with Tarantino’s dialogue, it’s punchy, fun, energetic and most importantly, exciting. The issues that have chased Tarantino since the beginning of his career in that his characters speak in that heightened sense that no other normal human would speak in, may still be here, but honestly, who gives a hoot?

It’s Quentin Tarantino! You know exactly what you’re going to get, as soon as you walk into one of his movies.

And even though most of the promotion and hype surrounding this movie has been about the fact that it’s filmed and presented in 70 mm, the real kicker here is that, aside from at least 20-25 minutes of wide landscape shots at the beginning, middle, end and sporadically throughout, the majority of the movie takes place solely in this one room. The movie looks great to begin with, as we’d expect from Tarantino, but the reason why the 70 mm matters so much in a story like this is because it gives you a greater sense of just how confined and stuck these characters are; while it may appear that there’s a great big world for these characters to go outside and venture out into just in case they have to, because there’s a deadly blizzard going on right outside, they are all stuck with one another.

Which, as you could probably guessed, leads to plenty of scenes where characters talk to one another, get on each other’s nerves, and come pretty damn close to killing the other. This is, of course, all terrific and great to listen to, adding more of a sense of intensity and suspense to the chilly air of that Tarantino, as well as his terrific ensemble create. Any lesser director/writer would have been bored with this one room setting and decided to take their movie elsewhere and jump around a bit, but Tarantino knows and understands the sheer power there is in watching a bunch of heavy-hitting actors stand around a room, watch one another, and get ready for the other shoe to eventually drop.

And when that shoe drops, well, it’s pretty crazy, violent, and gory, but still all so pleasing.

However, at the same time, there’s also that annoying feeling that perhaps Tarantino loses himself a slight bit here. For one, the intermission that takes place is perfect because it sets up a whole other movie, with a whole other tone and feeling altogether. It’s a smart decision on Tarantino’s behalf, but what he does with this second-half is, sadly, a bit disappointing; though the movie doesn’t necessarily feel long, there’s a 20-minute sequence that, in hindsight, didn’t really need to be included at all. Without saying too much, it’s a sequence that takes us a tad away from the current on-goings of the plot and instead, give us another view to look at the story; while it’s a tricky device that Tarantino uses well, it still doesn’t seem like it needed to be included at all.

As an audience-member, it was already easy enough to connect the dots as is, so why is there the need to explain certain plot-elements even further than what’s already needed?

And this matters because, right after this point is where the Hateful Eight started to feel like a bit of a retread of what Tarantino has done many times before and, mostly, better. There are still certain ways that Tarantino keeps this plot moving in an efficient manner, but by the same token, he also seems to be utilizing the same sort of twists and turns we’ve seen him roll with before and, honestly, it’s a bit of a shame. This isn’t to say that Tarantino misses the mark here, but considering that the bar has been raised so high in the past few years with Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, really, anytime it feels like Tarantino isn’t fully giving his all, can definitely be a problem.

Kind of bad-ass.

Kind of bad-ass.

This is all to say that the Hateful Eight definitely isn’t Tarantino’s best, but also isn’t to say that it’s his worst, either.

It’s just that it’s very good, yet, also feels like it’s destined for something far, far better than what it ends up being.

Through it all though, the ensemble, as expected, works perfectly. Though it did disappoint me a tad bit to see a lot of familiar faces show up to work with Tarantino again here, it still doesn’t matter because they’re all so great as is. Samuel L. Jackson continues to get his meatiest roles from Tarantino and as Major Marquis Warren, he gets to show us a man who has been through it all in life and isn’t afraid to get violent when he needs to; Kurt Russell is having a blast as John Ruth, someone who seems to have a decent-enough heart, but is also just as savage as the rest; Tim Roth is joyously fun as Oswaldo, someone who seems way too cheery to be a hangman; Michael Madsen is, once again, cool and stoic as Joe Gage; and Bruce Dern, playing the ex-General of this story, is wise and grizzled, but also adds enough depth to this character that he feels like more than just “the old man of the story”.

As for the newcomers, they’re all amazing, too and show why they were perfectly picked by Tarantino to deliver his sometimes challenging, but altogether lovely dialogue. Demián Bichir, despite playing what appears to be just “the Mexican”, also seems like there’s more to him that he’s not letting on and it’s cool to see someone like Bichir, play both mysterious, as well as funny; Channing Tatum shows up in a small-ish role, too here, and does a fine enough job that it makes me definitely want to see him appear in more Tarantino flicks; and even though he already appeared in Tarantino’s Django, Walton Goggins is electric as Chris Mannix, the supposed-sheriff who we may not be able to trust, but because he’s sometime so stupid and naive, it’s almost like he’s telling the truth.

However, the true star of this cast, believe it or not, is actually the sole woman of the main cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh.

As Daisy Domergue, Leigh does a lot of standing around, staring and looking as if she’s up to no good and nine times out of ten, that’s pretty much the case. While we’re told that she’s as bad-ass and as dangerous as any of the other men surrounding her, Leigh still shows that through her odd, occasionally hilarious performance. Though she may appear to be nothing more than just a basket case, there’s something about Domergue that, underneath it all, still seems present and this is perhaps the main factor that keeps this character interesting, as well as compelling. Domergue, just like every other character here, is a total mystery to us and while we may never know what to expect next from them, we sure as hell know it’s not going to be an act of kindness. And that’s why Leigh, who we haven’t seen much of in the past few years, is absolutely brilliant in this role, giving it all that she’s got, but at the same time, still seeming like she’s not really trying at all, either.

Consensus: Though the Hateful Eight isn’t Tarantino’s best, it is still fun, well-acted and compelling enough to keep everything moving at a fine pace, even despite the three-hour long run-time.

8.5 / 10

Totally bad-ass. Back off, boys.

Totally bad-ass. Back off, boys.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Wait! Where’s Jar-Jar?

Many years has gone by since the events of Return of the Jedi, and well, a lot has happened. For one, Luke Skywalker (Hamill), has gone into some sort of hiding, leaving many people to wonder where he is and also, try desperately to find him. Also, the Empire has finally, once and for all, shattered and fallen apart, but that isn’t to say that evil forces in the galaxy are over and done with; now, rising from the ashes, is called the First Order, led by a ruthless, powerful and evil baddie named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). But have no fear, kind citizens, as the Resistance still exists, however, they’re doing what they’ve always done: Fight the evil-doers and leave it at that. However, in order to defeat the baddies, the Resistance needs to find a small droid who is carrying a secret map to Skywalker, which just so happens to be by the side of a young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley). Along the way, Rey meets Finn (Jon Boyega), a former storm trooper for the First Order who has decided to defect and do whatever he can to stay alive and safe from the evil, harmful ways of the so-called bad allegiance.

The force is strong with this emo punk.

The force is strong with this emo punk.

Now, it’s hard for me to fully review/write about the Force Awakens without really bringing anything new to the table; for silly reasons, I wasn’t able to see the movie for nearly a week, which left plenty of time for people to commit all sorts of chatter about it. Mostly, it’s all been good and fine, but there are the occasional bad apples in the bunch who don’t like what they see and because they have an opinion that doesn’t fully agree with the rest of the consensus, they’re attacked, made fools of, and seen as members of “the no-fun police”. Granted, it is Star Wars, a very beloved and adored franchise, but still, it’s also a movie, and by that same token, it should be approached as any movie ever made.

Which is to say that yes, the Force Awakens is a good movie. Not great, but good. Don’t kill me, please. Just bear with me and we’ll see if we’re still friends by the end of it, okay?

Good. Let’s get to it!

No matter what’s said about any of the problems within the Force Awakens, there’s no denying the fact that co-writer/director J.J. Abrams deserves every bit of respect. First off, he took on the challenge of making another Star Wars film, which also just so happened to come out after he was working on making the Star Trek movies. Clearly, he has an affection for this kind of sci-fi geekery and because of that, he gives each and every fan from every background, something to cherish and hold onto. There’s plenty of callbacks here, most of which are well-done, and because of that, it makes it obvious, even from the very start, that Abrams cares, isn’t trying to keep this all for himself, and wants to share his love and appreciation for this galaxy, just as much as every other fan does, too.

That said, the problem with the Force Awakens is that, for one, it’s a Star Wars movie and it’s one that constantly feels the need to callback and reference the original ones. Which is, yes, fine for a punchline or two, but the references, similarities, or comparisons don’t just begin and end with the humor – it’s everywhere from the plot, to the character-development, to even the action itself. While this isn’t a spoiler really, it still goes to show the kind of disappointment that can be had when one realizes that the story-line here, starts the same, continues on the same, and almost comes close to ending, nearly the same way as A New Hope.

This is especially a problem because, well, Abrams and his band of trusted confidantes clearly had so much to work with at their disposal and well, to see them hark back to the story-lines of yesteryear, almost feels like a waste.

Why does, ultimately, the movie have to come down to it being a battle between two sides? Better yet, why does it have to be hinting at some sort of family-drama? And while I’m at it, do we really need to keep on developing Han Solo, Leia, and Chewie? Can’t we just have them around to do their things, in a way to allow for the new, probably more important characters take over, do their things, and give us reasons to actually give a flyin’ hoot about their part in this story? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not upset that Abrams decided to include Solo, or Leia, or Chewie, or anybody else from the old trilogy, all over again and show us all that they’re still alive, well, and doing what they’ve always done, but a tad too much time is dedicated to them, and not enough time is given to these newer ones who are supposed to be the leading stars of this new franchise.

Either way, it was nice to see Harrison Ford actually give a damn in a movie again, but it was even sweeter to see him playing as Han Solo all over again. Rather than seeming annoying and shticky, Ford wears this role like a glove that any line of wit he delivers, feels like a genuine reaction someone as wild and cool as he would deliver on. Carrie Fisher didn’t really get a chance to do much as Leia, except for numerous reaction-shots, but it was still nice to see her and Ford, on the screen again, clearly still having feelings for one another, but also realizing that a lot has changed, time has moved on, and well, they’re old.

As for Luke? Well, I’ll leave that up in the air.

But like I said before, not all of the Force Awakens is bad. For a movie that runs a tad over two-hours-and-ten minutes, it’s a surprisingly quick and exciting movie that hardly ever feels like it’s slowing down or not going somewhere. One of the main issues with the prequels is that we all knew where they were headed towards, however, they took so damn long to get there; here, while we don’t necessarily know where they’re heading, we’re still on-board, seeing just where Abrams takes the story next, and how he does it all. That Abrams takes familiar situations and plot-points that we’ve seen already highlighted in the earlier movies, but also turns them on their side slightly and shows them in a new light, adds a nice touch that only someone as smart as Abrams could deliver on.

Reunited and it feels so good! Just look at Harry's face!

Reunited and it feels so good! Just look at Harry’s face!

Cause I know that a lot of what I’m saying here makes it seem like Abrams missed the ball and ruined the Star Wars franchise, because he really did not. He sets everything up in a solid enough manner that it makes me all sorts of ready and anticipated for what’s to come next (in Rian Johnson’s movie, that is), while also not forgetting to keep enough going on in this story, that it doesn’t just feel like unnecessary filler. Stuff happens, is learned and made clear to us in the Force Awakens, and while plenty is left open and ready to be discussed in the upcoming films, there’s still that great feeling of knowing that yes, Star Wars is finally back in our lives and it’s actually in the hands of people capable of being trusted.

And I’m not just talking about Abrams, either, I’m also talking about the surprisingly great cast. Even though there’s no real big names among the young cast that will get the non-conformist’s butts into the seats, that doesn’t matter because they’re all still worthy of checking out and getting invested in, even if it can sometimes feel like the script isn’t giving them a whole lot to roll with or develop.

Daisy Ridley comes absolutely out of nowhere here as Rey and is a total star.

First of all, she’s got a crap-ton of charisma. Though she’s a female character, who also seems to be taking the role of one that would have been made for a man, the movie doesn’t make a point of this; it turns out that Rey, having been on her own for almost her whole life, is just a bad-ass chick that can take care of herself, regardless of what situation comes into her way. Sure, there’s one too many obstacles that she works out too simply or quickly, but hey, the fact that she’s a fun, but compelling presence on the screen, without being pushy or annoying about it, makes her more watchable and fun to stand behind.

Jon Boyega who, granted, already had a nice role in Attack the Block, does a fine job as Finn – someone who gets plenty of development and helps him and his cause more believable. Finn’s characterization is made out to be more of that he’s just a simple, everyday guy who doesn’t want to kill people for senseless reasons, but instead, wants to just be happy and live a normal life, but Boyega also makes him funny and charming, which doesn’t seem like something the script seems to always be calling out for. Rey and Finn’s relationship, whether it be anything more than just pals right now or not, is sweet enough that it tugs at the heartstrings a bit, but also not too developed to where we’re tired of seeing them together and get it already.

But really, it’s Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren who I can’t seem to get enough of. Granted, I love Driver already, but his casting as Ren, while initially, a bit strange, ends up totally working when you see it actually play-out. For one, Driver’s physical presence is demanding and intimidating, but he’s also really interesting to listen to, even when it seems like he’s just delivering “bad-guy dialogue”. Ren may appear to be a total and absolute bad-ass who can stop lasers in thin-air with the force, as well as be able to choke people from across the room, but he also appears to be a bit of whiny brat, who may not deserve all of this power and respect that’s at his disposal. We soon learn more about his backstory and why he matters throughout, but what should be said now is this: Driver’s good in the role and if anything, he makes me want to see more about Ren as well as the rest of the First Order.

As for others like Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, and Gwendoline Christie, and their characters? Well, that’s for the next movies to discuss.

Until then, we’ll just wait and see.

Consensus: The Force Awakens may be too familiar and easy for its own good, but is still an exciting, well-acted, interesting, and rather funny adventure back into a galaxy that we’ve been missing for so long, and can’t wait to see what happens with it next.

8 / 10

Step aside, R2, and eat your heart out, ladies.

Step aside, R2, and eat your heart out, ladies. BB-8 has arrived.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

24 Party Hour People (2002)

PartyposterDrugs make everything better. Even annoying Brits.

Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan), from what most people thought, was just another TV anchor forced to do stories on wild animals and old people. But little did some of them know that, after all of the filming was done, Wilson was also a prominent agent for some of the biggest and best British bands of the early-punk and Madchester scene that spanned from the late-70’s, to the early-90’s. Not only did Wilson make the likes of the Sex Pistols, Joy Division, New Order, and the Happy Mondays big names in the music biz, but he also help pave the way for how most night clubs should be able to handle these bands while, at the same time, still make a profit. But aside from the business aspect, Wilson also encountered some issues in his personal life, whether he was bouncing from girl-to-girl, drug-to-drug, or band-to-band, he always remained focused on making the music his first and only priority. Even if, occasionally, the bands themselves were a bit too much to handle. But no matter what, Wilson always relied on something to get him through even the biggest hurdles: Drugs. And wow, a whole lot of them, too.

Oh, to be young and trendy again.

Oh, to be young and trendy again.

What’s perhaps the most interesting element of 24 Hour Party People that not only sets it apart from the rest of the musical biopic genre, but also enlivens things, too, is the fact that every so often, Wilson turns to the camera, lets us know what’s going on, what legend has said about a certain incident and mostly, just given his own voice and opinion on things. Not only does this make the movie self-aware, but it also helps make us realize that Wilson, despite his many negative personality-traits, is an honest and relatively understanding human being. However, what’s most interesting about what director Michael Winterbottom does here is that he doesn’t ever give us the full focus on Wilson’s life, even though that’s kind of expected.

Case in point, try the one scene where Wilson meets his ex-wife and child; while we’re expecting it to be a heartfelt, albeit sappy scene trying to make us see and understand Wilson as this kind, loving and caring human being, Wilson then talks to the audience, lets us know that he does have a kid, but also reminds us that this story isn’t wholly about him. In fact, it’s about the music he helped discover and bring to the masses, the parties that constantly arose, and just why it all matters these many years later.

And for that reason, 24 Hour Party People‘s kind of a blast.

Though Winterbottom has a hard task of trying to get the whole Madchester music scene into a near-two-hour-long film, without making it seem like he’s forgotten about anyone important, he somehow is able to make it all come together. Most of this has to do with the fact that Wilson’s constant narration and breaking of the fourth-wall, actually helps us connect the dots; some may say that it’s spoon-feeding the audience and pointing out the obvious, but I look at it as a way of Winterbottom letting us know that, don’t worry, no matter how many bands or names come into the foray here, he’ll still help us out. After all, the Madchester music scene was a crazy one, and if you don’t already know all of the bands and acts going into it, you’ll more than likely get lost in all the havoc and craziness.

Thankfully, like I said, Wilson’s narration helps us all out. And due to this, the movie’s a whole lot of fun. As usual with Coogan’s productions, there’s a lot of humor that comes out of some very dark and serious situations, while at the same time, the movie doesn’t forget about the harsh realities that this music scene brought on. Of course, with the movie featuring Joy Division, it’s obvious that they’d shine a light on Ian Curtis and his suicide, but other than that, there’s still plenty of other sad things that happen. People break-up, people get back together, people gain fame, people lose it, and most of all, people lose sight of their humanity.

Ian Curtis dances weird? You don't say!

There goes Ian Curtis giving hope to all white people who think they can dance.

But no matter what 24 Hour Party People is entertaining.

Maybe it’s not as heavy as it should have been, but considering it’s a musical biopic that doesn’t try to preach any ideas about drug addiction, or fame, or money, it’s definitely “different”, for lack of a better term. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s also got a nice bit of insight into how the world of music works, how people get into place when a certain craze is beginning to take over, and just how easy it is for people to get wrapped up in all of it. Though Wilson loves good music, first and foremost, he also loves money and making plenty of it, which is why it’s neat to see his perspective on what one has to do to ensure that their nightclub makes as much profit as it should. While this definitely takes the movie away from the music, and more towards the business of what went on around it, it still adds up to creating this whole scene and why it was so great to be apart of.

And like I made a mention of before, Coogan is definitely a fine source for us to follow and see all of this happen around. Coogan’s great at playing level-headed a-holes, but here, there’s a bit more to Wilson that makes him seem more humane than usual. Still though, this movie isn’t a biopic on his life, as much as it’s about all those countless bands and people he met, which is why the ensemble has some of the finest heavy-hitters in England. The likes of Paddy Considine, Sean Harris, Andy Serkis (not in mo-cap gear), Lennie James, Shirley Henderson, and of course, plenty more, all give their two cents here, are fun, lively and round out a party worth being apart of and checking out.

Even if, you know, you didn’t get an invitation to it in the first place.

Consensus: With a smart, attentive eye to detail and facts, 24 Hour Party People isn’t just an insightful piece, but also a very funny, exciting film that perfectly captures the Madchester scene, the bands and all the other people who are alive and well during its reign.

8 / 10

Steve Coogan? Happy! You don't say!

Steve Coogan? Happy? You don’t say!

Photos Courtesy of: Stand By For Mind Control, Now Very Bad, VH Corner

Sisters (2015)

Family homes were always the best ones to trash.

Kate and Maura Ellis (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) are sisters who clearly love one another and get along swimmingly, even if their own, respective lives have taken a bit of different turns. For Kate, being the crazy and wild party girl that she is, had herself a kid, hasn’t been able to secure a sustaining job, and seems to be going from couch-to-couch. Whereas for Maura, who was always the over-achiever of the two, always used her kind skills for the greater good of society, even if it did cost her her own marriage. However, all of these years later, they come back together and reunite in their family home, now that it’s being put on the market by their parents who just want to sit down, relax, and retire in place. Seeing as how this house is their one last chance for any sense of fun or memorable excitement, Kate and Maura decide that it’s time to throw a huge bash, where friends from the past and present, all come together for an unforgettable night of booze, sex, and drugs. Thing is, all the great times begin to catch up to Maura and Kate, and they eventually have to come to terms with growing up and realize that they do have responsibilities in life.

The sisters that live together...

The sisters that live together…

Sisters is the kind of comedy we’ve seen before, where two women get back together after all of these years apart, and relive their glory days. Sometimes, the consequences are drastic, embarrassing, and funny, but for the most part, they always end up learning a lesson by the end that not only makes them better people as a whole, but may make the audience-members, too. This has all been done to death by now and has become something of a total convention.

However, what Sisters has that none of those other flicks has, is the wonderful pairing of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler who, honestly, haven’t been funnier.

One of the main reasons for that is because, believe it or not, Sisters is rated-R, which means that there’s more time for raunchiness, more time for cursing, and just more time for general debauchery. This all adds up to a movie made by adults, made for adults, and clearly isn’t screwing around with what it’s willing to do, where it’s willing to go, or hard it’s going to try and make you laugh. For that reason and that reason alone, Sisters is the kind of comedy that should be appreciated and held up on a high-standard when compared to most other R-rated comedies that don’t tend to go that extra mile.

Instead, most of the time (like, I don’t know, say Judd Apatow movies), they tend to just rely on crazy improvisation that seems to go nowhere and end exactly there. However, in Sisters, there’s gags that get introduced right away, continue to pop-up and, yet, believe it, actually reach a certain climax in a way that’s not only effective, not only hilarious, but actually smart. Whereas a weaker comedy would have just introduced the simple gag as a small throw-away line, Sisters continues to knock at it for what’s it worth; occasionally, this means that a gag that doesn’t land well the first time, continues to get forced down our throats again and again, but for the most part, it still doesn’t matter.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that Sisters is funny.

In fact, it’s a very funny movie that, considering it’s about a party that never seems to end, is actually quite fun and exciting, just as a party of this magnitude would and should be. Granted, the near two-hour run-time of the movie (which is already too long) is filled about half-way with this party, but that isn’t a complaint: The party starts off slow and lame, but after awhile, starts to pick up and eventually, it’s an amazingly great time that, quite frankly, you won’t want to miss out on or be anywhere else for. Of course, the party does consist of funny, attractive people being both funny, as well as attractive, but still, what’s so wrong with that?

..are also the ones that shop together...

..are also the ones that shop together…

As long as it’s fun, who cares!

And speaking of funny and attractive people, Fey and Poehler are definitely at the top of the list for this movie and show that they’re deserving of any movie they ever want to make together. What’s interesting here about each one of their performances is that they’re both kind of playing a bit against-type; Fey, usually more reserved, professional and serious, takes over the role usually taken by Poehler, where she’s vibrant, rude, and brassy, whereas Poehler, with shades of Leslie Knope, seems to be taking Fey’s role. Either way you put it, both are clearly having a great time, whether they’re together or on their own – which is something that transcends well onto the rest of the movie. Of course, Fey and Poehler aren’t the only ones who have fun times here as the likes of John Leguizamo, Ike Barinholtz, Bobby Moynihan, Samantha Bee, Maya Rudolph, and most of all, John Cena, all join in on the fun, bring something to the table, and seem to go home incredibly pleased and happy with themselves.

However, where Sisters runs into a problem with itself is the fact that it is, yes, very long and definitely shouldn’t be. By the end, it becomes clear that once revelations are made and people start to get emotions and whatnot, the movie is clearly coming up on its final reel. Problem is, the movie continues to go on and on and on, until it’s almost as if the movie’s trying to imitate Return of the King, but without being satirical – it just has a crap-ton of endings, none of which are really any better than the others.

Then, it ends and everything gets a bit better. Even though there’s an annoying blooper-reel that doesn’t do much else except show that everybody involved, clearly enjoyed working with one another, the movie still ends on a sold enough that, when it’s all said and done, it’s fine. The movie could have ended way sooner than it did, but hey, at least it made us all laugh.

Which, for any comedy made in the 21st Century, is a-okay with me.

Consensus: Despite being lengthy, Sisters is still an uproarious R-rated comedy featuring smart people, doing and making jokes for audience members who deserve to pay closer attention to certain stuff that goes on.

8 / 10

..as well as party hard together.

..as well as party hard together.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

SithposterBlack, is always better.

It’s now been nearly three years after start of the Clone Wars and, well, a lot has changed. Anakin (Hayden Christensen) not only has long hair now, but is also married and expecting twins with Padme. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) is more scruffier than ever and is starting to notice something strange with Anakin. While he’s happy that his student has now become more powerful and skilled than he ever was before, he’s also realizing that there’s a bit of a rebellious streak in Anakin that doesn’t put him in the good graces with the fellow Jedis around him like Windu, or most importantly, Yoda. Still, despite all of this, the two now spend most of their time here hunting down the leaders of the Separatist Army across the galaxy. Because while they do have plenty of power with the Clone Army and band of Jedis, they still have to worry about the opposing forces as Chancellor Palpatine is now plotting to take over senate and reclaim galactic rule for the Sith. What makes him all the more sinister is that he’s looking to do so with the help of a new padawan of his own choosing – one of whom, if he has his way, may be Anakin.

Nobody's fresher than Obi-Wan. Get that through your thick skulls.

Nobody’s fresher than Obi-Wan. Get that through your thick skulls.

So, finally. After wading through the other two disappointing prequels, we now get to the one that matters the most: Anakin turning to the dark side. And yes, for the most part, Revenge of the Sith is most definitely the best of the other prequels. Is that saying much to begin with? No, not really. But hey, it’s saying something that makes this movie not just an enjoyable watch, but also a pretty heartfelt one, too, for old and new fans alike.

For one, this is the installment where we see Anakin finally turn the other cheek and realize there’s a lot of evil inside of him. While the reasoning for him turning into a baddie and to start killing younglings, isn’t fully realized and more of just a, “Hey, people aren’t being nice to me, so it’s time to fight back”, but it still works in a way; we know to expect it, so when he does start going off onto the dark side, it’s neat and interesting to watch. While Christensen’s acting is, once again, a bit over-the-top and crummy, the good side of it all is that we’re not supposed to like or care for him this time – we’re supposed to dislike and hate him, so it actually works in Christensen’s favor.

For better or worse, I guess.

But what works best here is that George Lucas really seems invested in what this story will become and because of that, the action-sequences have another added element of drama and suspense that was hardly found in the other two prequels. We don’t know if Mace Windu is anywhere out there in the galaxy for the original trilogy, so when he starts to have a duel with Senator Palpatine, it’s not only exciting, but quite scary; we care for Windu and we actually want him to survive.

Same goes for that amazing, ultimately epic battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan. Not only is it one of the best of the entire franchise (which is including the original franchise), but it also does a lot in that it tells us more about these characters through the way they battle one another. Anakin will occasionally get ahead of himself and miss a move or two, whereas Obi-Wan’s every move is as calculated as ever and ready for what’s next to come. Then again, he’s getting a lot older, so he can’t always handle Anakin’s energy, which is why, when watching the battle unfold, we wonder if Obi-Wan’s going to make a wrong step or two, and bite the dust. As I said, we know what to expect with Anakin and Obi-Wan in the later trilogy, but still, Lucas does something special here in that he keeps us expecting the unexpected.

Still though, the same issues with Revenge of the Sith, have been around for the past two installments. The script’s still pretty lame and filled with all sorts of silly lines that seem as if they came out of an episode of Young and the Restless; Padme’s and Anakin’s love story, once again, doesn’t breathe a single fresh air of truth and just continues to get more and more hackneyed as it goes along; and yeah, Palpatine himself, as played by Ian McDiarmid, gets way campy, way too quick. Thing is, though, it’s easy to push a lot of these issues to the side and just focus on the fact that, you know what, the movie’s actually pretty fun and emotional.

Yoda's still bad-ass, but we get it! You talk backwards, bro!

Yoda’s still bad-ass, but we get it! You talk backwards, bro!

And “emotional” is, honestly, not something we’d come to expect with these new installments, but like I said, Lucas does something here that works and helps this movie hit a lot harder than it should.

For example, that whole sequence in which the Clones initiate “Order 66”? Yeah, some pretty rough stuff to sit back, watch and not at all relax, too. What about the aforementioned scene of the murder of those younglings? Ten years later and you know what? That scene is still incredibly screwed-up. Even the scene when Anakin goes around the switchboard room of that Lava world and kills just about every bad person from the previous installments? Yeah, that’s a little hard to watch, too. Here, it seems like Lucas finally gave into his darker, more adult side and let everyone in this story, have it. He doesn’t hold back on hardly a single person and really, it’s actually quite brutal to watch.

To me, that’s perhaps the most impressive aspect surrounding this movie and while it does make me wish that the rest of the other flicks were just like it, I still can’t help but feel pleased that Lucas didn’t end on a terribly weak-note. Of course, people will get on the movie for trying to tarnish the legacy of the originals and not be anything more than just a bunch of obvious and manipulative cash-grabs, but personally, it’s nice to see these stories told. Could they have been done so with a better director and writer on-hand? Of course they could have! But Lucas gave it his all and while, at first, it didn’t hold, he eventually got the hang of things and it’s nice to see.

Now, it’s time for the original trilogy and oh boy, can’t wait.

Consensus: Revenge of the Sith is the best installment of the prequels, which may not be saying much at all, but does show that Lucas eventually got the hang of everything that he was doing and decided to remind his audience that this story was going to get a whole lot darker and more serious as it went along. Which, thankfully, it did.

8 / 10

See? Look! They're all pals in the end, collecting hefty paychecks, one gig at a time.

See? Look! They’re all pals in the end, collecting hefty paychecks, one gig at a time.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Creed (2015)

And yet, Rocky’s statue isn’t at the top of the steps anymore.

Shortly before he died at the savage hands of Ivan Drago, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) had an affair with a woman that led to the birth of a son, Adonis. While many years later, Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) doesn’t keep the “Creed” name and instead, decides to go with his biological mother’s last name, “Johnson”. However, no matter how much Adonis may want to make it seem like he’s not like his father, he’s still following the same path; not only does he want to become a professional boxer, but he also wants to do so in a matter that gains him respect and gratitude from those around him. Though Adonis is quite wealthy and doesn’t have to be fighting, he still feels like he owes it to himself, as well as his daddy’s legacy, which is why he decides to take a trip to Philadelphia and track down his late father’s old buddy/trainer/opponent, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). While Rocky is reluctant to train Adonis at first, eventually, he gives in and decides to teach the young man a thing or two about not only controlling his mind in the ring, but out of it, as well. This leads to Adonis trying to make a name for himself in the world of professional boxing, where the conversation always seems to lead more towards who his father is, and less about what sort of talents he actually has as a boxer.

Fedora or no fedora, Sly will still throw down.

Fedora or no fedora, Sly will still throw down.

A lot of people are worried about Creed. The reason for this has solely to do with the fact that the Rocky movies, minus the first, are all pretty silly and, dare I say it, bad. While Rocky will forever and always be considered a classic (as well as it should be), the other various sequels feel as if they do nothing more than just hurt that movie’s great legacy, rather than assist it. Don’t get me wrong, the sequels are all still fine and entertaining, but each and everyone has taken on a different sort of following that has less to do with the underdog, likable spirit of the first movie and more with how over-the-top and cheesy everything in the late-70’s-to-early-90’s were. Therefore, because of these movies not being quite as up-to-par as the iconic original, Creed is looked at as, yet again, another cash-cow for the Rocky franchise.

But have no fear, everybody: Despite it being the seventh installment in said franchise, Creed is possibly the best Rocky movie since the first.

Granted, it’s not saying much, but still, pretty much is.

The main reason as to why Creed works so well and isn’t just another heartless, soulless piece of franchise cinema, is because the talent involved with it, really do seem to genuinely care about where they take this story next. It’s actually quite surprising that no one has yet to even try and create a movie focusing in on Apollo’s family, but regardless of how long it took, it’s great to see that it attracted director Ryan Coogler, who, with Fruitvale Station a few years ago, showed a fresh, young and energetic voice that was desperately wanting to be heard. While Creed is maybe less preachy and topical as that movie, Coogler still does a nice enough job in adding just enough heart and emotion that makes this seem like more than just a traditional boxing movie – it’s got plenty more heart than that.

And of course, most of this can all be chalked up to the fact that Adonis Creed/Johnson, is a pretty well-written character to have your movie revolve around. While there’s no denying that the character of Rocky Balboa will forever and always remain legendary, there’s something sad and heartfelt about Adonis’ road to boxing that makes his journey all the more engaging. Though most fighters are simply fighting because it’s all that they are able to do and make money with, Adonis is doing it more to figure out just where he comes from and exactly who his father was. He doesn’t specifically say this from the very beginning, but it’s clear that, from the very beginning, he’s boxing for a reason and he’ll continue to search for it until he finds it.

It also deserves to be said that Michael B. Jordan, as usual, is stellar as Adonis. Jordan, as he’s done with his past few performances, has shown a genuine sincerity to each and everyone of his characters who, may not always make the smartest decisions out there, but have nice enough hearts that you want to see where they go and what happens to them next. That Adonis is already made to be a superstar like his late, great father, makes him coming to terms with what that all means, quite touching and honest – something that a Rocky movie hasn’t been in quite some time.

Oh, and yeah, while I’m at it, I guess I might as well talk about Rocky, the character, considering that, after all, this movie is sort of about him, too.

There’s no denying the fact that Sylvester Stallone is a good actor; while he definitely has certain limitations to his range, the guy has a few handful of key, interesting performances that shows he’s capable of taking a character and doing wonders with him. Granted, he needs the right guidance to do so, or he just ends up looking and sounding like a blubbering mess, but nonetheless, Sly Stallone is a fine actor. His only problem is that when he’s not appearing in bad flicks, he’s directing himself, and that doesn’t always tend to get the best performance out of him.

However, with Coogler’s direction, Sly digs deeper into Rocky than ever before; rather than just seeing the funny, charismatic and simple Italian Stallion from Philadelphia, we see someone who is coming to terms with the fact of his own existence. There’s plenty talk in this movie about how Rocky is old and may be joining the likes of Paulie and Adrian quite soon, which is not only hard-to-watch, but even harder to fully accept – this is Rocky, dammit! He’s the one and only underdog!

Is anybody else struck by the uncanny resemblance this scene has to this scene in Magic Mike? Just throwing that out there.

Is anybody else struck by the uncanny resemblance this scene has to this scene in Magic Mike? Just throwing that out there.

How can he lose! Better yet, how can he die!

Well, as the movie, as well as Sly’s powerful performance, shows, it’s quite simple: He just can. He’s older now and his bones don’t quite work as well as they used to. That’s why, when we get scenes of Rocky and Adonis training together, whether it be through soft-boxing, punching the bag, jumping rope, jogging, or walking up those infamous steps, it’s hard not to get a twinkle in your eye, a smile on your face, and a warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. In a way, it almost seems like Sly himself, is genuinely happy portraying this role all over again, but like I said, it isn’t just another one of those performances we’ve seen from him before. He’s more raw, understated and interesting than he’s ever been before and it shows just the kind of talent Sly was and, in ways, still is.

He just needs the right people to guide him along every so often.

And because there’s plenty of emotion concerning these characters, the fights themselves pack on an extra punch as well. That we know Adonis needs these fights more than anything, makes it especially hard to watch as he continuously gets beaten to a near-bloody pulp, just to prove that he has what it takes. In a way, it’s almost self-abusive, but it’s still compelling to watch because we care for Adonis and the reason for why it is that he’s fighting. Not to mention that Coogler, too, does a great job at filming these boxing-sequences that make them still feel fresh and exciting.

On a side note, though, Creed also works best, just like the original Rocky, as a nice little postcard of Philadelphia. Being from and currently living in Philadelphia, it was great to see my city not just get a whole lot of attention, but also be discussed and portrayed in a way that makes it seem like a lovely city where anyone can come, find themselves, and achieve all sorts of greatness. For some people living in Philly, they may not believe this all to be true, but still, it’s great to see my city get a much-deserved spotlight, as well as also give me something to point at when talking to my friends about what location, was shown when.

Basically, I’ll just be a tour-guide from here on out.

Consensus: Like it’s well-known predecessors, Creed is a conventional boxing flick, but still features enough heart, emotion and good performances that make this seventh installment still an interesting, if also, fun watch.

8 / 10

Looks like he's got his, "Yo Adrian!" yell down perfectly.

Looks like he’s got his, “Yo Adrian!” yell down perfectly.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Brooklyn (2015)

If Jay-Z raps about it, you know it’s a pretty cool place.

Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is a young girl from Ireland who’s getting a bit tired of the mundane life she’s currently living. She has a nice job, and gets along with her sister and mother just fine, but doesn’t know what’s really keeping her. That’s why, when she hears about a boat leaving for the U.S., Eilis gets hops aboard, and heads for Brooklyn, New York. While she’s initially homesick and scared, Eilis begins to get used to the way New York is and all of the promise it holds for her. Not only does she have a cashier job at a fancy store, she’s also caught the eye of a local Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen). Though Eilis isn’t quite experienced with boys, she decides to give Tony a chance anyway and eventually, the two start to hit it off; despite their two very different backgrounds, they still find ways to connect and make each other happy. However, a situation at home forces Eilis to come back to Ireland, which then makes her reconsider what she’s been doing with her life and leave her to wonder whether or not she wants to stay home, or go back to Brooklyn, where anything and everything is possible?

Is this love?

Is this love?

Nick Hornby is one of my favorite writers of all time. Most of his stories are humorous takes on life, but never do they ever feel as if they’re getting too ahead of themselves, or bordering on “parody”. If anything, they feel like honest-to-God, understandable tales told from the perspectives of people who, quite frankly, are a lot like you or I. They’re not these extremely lovable, likable, or attractive people in these larger-than-life predicaments – most of the time, they’re just average people living life as well as they can.

It sounds so damn ordinary, but that’s actually the kind of beauty behind Hornby’s writing.

That’s why Brooklyn, another piece written by Hornby, feels like it couldn’t have been written by anybody else; it’s funny, poignant, relateable, and most of all, sweet. Hornby has, and probably always will, continue to keep on telling coming-of-agers till the day he can’t write anymore, which is fine with me; none of them ever show signs of slowing down, nor do they show a writer who has clearly lost track of time. Which is why it’s quite shocking to realize just how good Brooklyn is, and just how much it feels like a Nick Hornby movie.

For better, as well as, maybe, for worse, no character here is presented as a terrible specimen, nor are they treated as later-day saints. Mostly everybody in this flick are normal, everyday folk that you’d probably meet on the street, have a talk or two with, and leave, not quite remembering anything special about them, but at least remembering that a conversation did in fact take place. Once again, I know that all of this sounds incredibly mundane, but for some reason, in the hands of Hornby, it feels like so much more. And most of that, of course, has to do with the fact that we’ve got, yet again, another very strong protagonist from Hornby who, like all the rest, feels like a real person and not just a made-up type Hollywood execs like to think are real.

What’s perhaps the most interesting element about Eilis, as well as Saoirse Ronan’s performance, is how that, no matter how many twists, turns and absolute surprises her life takes, she always stays believable. Because this is a female character in the lead role, it would be easy to have the film be all about her just trying to choose between what mate she wants in her life, which one she doesn’t, and leaving it all at that. However, Hornby and director John Crowley are smarter people than that and know that Eilis doesn’t just need men in her life to make herself happy or survive; they’re certainly a nice acquirement, but they are, in no way, shape, or fashion, the reasons for living.

All Eilis needs, is her own smarts, independence, and most of all, need to want to make those in her life happy.

But the movie never tries to lionize her, or anybody else surrounding her. There’s quite a few characters, like Emory Cohen’s Tony, who feel like they could have easily been one-dimensional caricatures, but instead, go a bit deeper than that. As Tony, Cohen gets to blend both sides of this character’s persona; there’s the strong, meat-head Brando-type, while on the other side, there’s the sweeter, more romantic type that’s all about getting married and starting a family with whoever catches his heart first. Cohen’s great in this role and the chemistry he and Ronan share, despite the romance itself may coming on a bit too quick, still feels genuine enough that it gives us something to wish and hope for by the end.

Or, is this?

Or, is this?

And not to mention that, yes, Ronan’s great in this role. Ever since she’s grown-up a bit more, Ronan hasn’t quite had the best movies to work with; though she’s had plenty of roles to stretch herself and make us forget that she was that little girl from Atonement, the movies themselves have always, well, underwhelmed. However, as Eilis, Ronan gets the perfect opportunity to not only make us adore the hell out of her, but also view her as a full-on, smart-thinking, and understanding grown-up who has an idea of what she wants in life and is going about figuring that all out for the time being. Ronan’s got this bright beauty to her that makes it hard for the camera to turn away, and even harder for us to not pay attention to her.

Basically, I can’t wait to see what else is coming up for Ronan in the near-future.

But like I said about Brooklyn – it’s everything you expect from a movie penned by Nick Hornby. It’s not just, at times, laugh-out-loud hilarious, but also quite insightful about certain aspects of life like family, love, marriage, and perhaps, most importantly, finding yourself in one location. With recent events, it’s nice to see a flick that not only shows the type of inspirational promise that America, at one point, promised for the whole outside world, but in ways, still does to this very day. People who wanted to start anew, or find themselves, were able to, just by hopping on a boat, train, or plane, and come straight to America. In all honesty, that’s what this country was made from and it’s lovely to get a little reminder that, regardless of what one may read, there’s still plenty of promise within America.

Like love. Like work. And basically, just life itself.

Consensus: Funny, honest, and best of all, heartfelt, Brooklyn is a tremendous coming-of-ager that gives a glimpse into one young woman’s life, without ever trying too hard to get in the way of it and instead, just allow for her to tell her own story, the way it was meant to be told.

8.5 / 10

Brooklyn3

Aw, who cares! You just do your thing, Saoirse!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

Another YA adaptation down, plenty more to go.

After she was attacked by a brainwashed Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katnis Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is fed up and ready to take action against President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Meaning, that it’s time for war to get going and it’s going to be Katnis the one spearheading it. And once again, it becomes clear that a lot of what Katnis does or says, is all planned out from the beginning with Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) constantly working behind the scenes, testing and working with every maneuver Katnis takes. Regardless though, there is a war to be fought, which leads Katnis, as well as the rest of her trusted soldiers for the cause, to head straight to District 2 and then the Capitol itself for one last fight to take down Snow and his tyrannical reign. However, as expected, Snow is more than up to the task of taking on this band of soldiers, while also proving that he may be the more powerful force after all. But there’s also something else that’s a bit fishy about this situation and it has less to do with Snow, as much as it may have to do with those that Katnis aligns herself with in the first place.

Will miss him.

Will miss him.

Finally, after three years, four movies, and plenty of money, the Hunger Games film franchise is coming to an end. In ways, it’s kind of bittersweet; while none of the films have ever astounded me, they’ve been plenty better than all those other young adult novel adaptations that come out every few months or so. Granted, considering the company that’s kept in that genre, that may not be saying much, but still, it’s worth noting that each and everyone of these movies have all done some neat, interesting things with a plot and source material that could have easily been the most melodramatic, boring piece of crud since Bella and Edward started hookin’ up in the forest.

Still, what makes the Hunger Games, the franchise, so special, is that it’s the kind of YA adaptation that plenty of people can actually enjoy. Of course, the target audience for this will continue to devour and adore it until the day they die, but so many other people, who may not think that this is “their thing”, may find something to be interested by here. There’s the romance for all the screaming fan-girls in the crowd; there’s the violence for the boyfriends who get dragged to them; there’s the high-production values for the film-fanatics; and most importantly, there’s political messages and ideas for those who still believe that we’re being spied on by the government, at this very second.

They’re not wrong, but still.

And with Mockingjay – Part 2, it really does feel like, not just the end, but the greatest hits of what this story had to offer, but seemed to lose sight of over the past two movies. All of the elements that have made the past films work, are still here, but now, there’s so much more emotion, so much more power, and most of all, so much more feeling that has you realize, “Holy hell. This truly is the last time we may ever see these characters on the screen again.” It’s definitely the same feeling everyone had watching Deathly Hallows – Part 2, as well as most other finales, but here, it feels done just right.

There’s a greater deal of suspense and tension in the air, which definitely helps this movie out. Though I haven’t read any of the books (I actually tried and then I picked up a copy of the Corrections and the rest is, as they say, history), it’s pretty simple and easy to predict just who’s going to survive by the end of the movies, and who is going to bite the dust. Here, however, because this is the last movie, there’s a sense in the air that we don’t know who’s going to live, who’s going to die, and just who’s life is going to be completely ruined forever.

Even way after the credits end.

This is all some incredibly grim and bleak stuff that the movie’s dealing with, but it all surprisingly works with the rest of the tone. Everything before Katnis and her fellow soldiers get out onto the war-field, everything’s slow, meandering and plodding, to say the least; in fact, it had me worried that we were just getting left-over scenes from Part 1, which, in and of itself, was already a pretty lame movie, so why would I want to be reminded of it? But after all of the emotions are exchanged, the guns start coming out, explosions start happening, and characters, well-developed or not, believe it or not, start dropping like flies. There’s characters you may expect to perish, whereas there may be some you don’t – either way, it’s hard not to watch when these characters are all getting themselves into more and more dangerous situations as they parade along to find and kill Snow.

Will kind of, sort of, maybe miss him.

Will kind of, sort of, maybe miss him.

It’s all action-packed, of course, but it’s also incredibly compelling that makes you feel something for these characters probably more so than before. Katnis is, as usual, a bad-ass, but here, we really do get a chance to see her true personality, heart and soul shine; so much has been made in the past two movies where Katnis is, basically, just an image and nothing else. However, with her fourth-outing as Katnis, Jennifer Lawrence shows that she’s still able to find some new ways to breath fresh life into this character. Does she seem a bit bored? Yeah.

But I guess that’s what happens when you’re the highest-paid actress in Hollywood.

And everybody else is fine, too. The ensemble here is so stacked by now that, honestly, it feels like a shame they aren’t all given monologues to deliver and run rampant with, but so be it. In any other film, this cast would have absolutely made any movie a near-masterpiece, but because this is a Hunger Games movie, it’s less about them, and more about the spectacle.

Which, like I’ve said before, isn’t a bad thing. These movies, especially this one, have all done great jobs at balancing-out all the different aspects it takes to make this story interesting to watch and think about. The last-half of this movie definitely deals with that in a smart, but nearly shocking way that’s sure to surprise a whole lot of people who don’t know what to expect. But still, it works because the world that this movie has created, right from the very get-go, is one that may look all bright and shiny from the outside, but once you dig a bit deeper, is downright sadistic and disturbing. Such is the case with the real world, too, I guess.

But hey, we’ll miss you Katnis.

*Whistle-salute sound*

Consensus: Surprisingly grim, exciting and most of all, emotional, Mockingjay – Part 2 isn’t just the final installment of the franchise, but also the best one, proving just what sorts of wonders it was able to work, despite the target audience and what’s generally expected of stories such as these.

8 / 10

And, oh yeah. Will totes miss her.

And, oh yeah. Will totes miss her.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Safe (1995)

It’s like Bubble Boy. Without a bubble. Or a boy.

Carol White (Julianne Moore) lives a pretty carefree, unexciting life in California with her husband (Xander Berkeley) and stepson. The solid majority of her days consist of finding out which couches’ colors work best with living rooms and figuring out which diet to go on. So, yeah, basically, Carol has nothing to worry about. That all changes one day, however, when she starts to wheeze uncontrollably; though she goes to the doctor to get everything checked out, it turns out that there’s nothing really wrong with her. However, Carol isn’t fully convinced of this, so she looks into the matter herself, and the result she finds out is a bit unexpected, if random. For one, it seems that Carol is allergic to the 20th Century; meaning, there are certain chemicals, gases and irritants that get into her system, make her sick and have her lose control of her breathing. While everyone around Carol thinks that she’s losing her mind and/or is just looking for attention, she herself still knows that her condition is real and wants to find anything that can help her get better and possibly be cured. But where she goes to find these solutions, don’t always pan-out so well.

Pretty, curly hair does not distract.

Pretty, curly hair does not distract.

Todd Haynes doesn’t necessarily direct Safe, as much as he just guides it on along. There’s a very simple story here that, in Haynes’ own, no-frills way, doesn’t ever try to dig too deep into; instead, he just allows for it to be told as straight-forward as possible. However, by doing so, there’s something off about Safe that makes it a movie worth thinking a whole lot about; while it would be easy to classify it as a boring, incredibly slow disease-of-the-week flick, there’s so much more going on in between the folds and lines that make it seem like so much more.

In a way, you could classify Safe as “a thriller”, but at the same time, you couldn’t – while the movie definitely has all of the tension and unpredictability of a thriller, Haynes isn’t really depending on that to tell his story. Sure, the synth-inspired score is eerie to a fault, but despite it, the rest of the movie seems to just be focusing on what happens to Carol next – whether or not it excites you, is generally just up to you and what gets you going. For me, watching this story unfold, before my very own eyes, and to know that Haynes wasn’t trying to be at all pretentious with his style, kept me wide awake and watching.

Granted, I had no clue where the story was going, but that wasn’t the point.

The point of Safe, from what I can gather, is to depict the alienation one woman can feel when she is on the brink of extreme madness and everyone around her knows it. While Carol is, initially, a pretty dull character who doesn’t really have much of a personality, through this disease that she “catches”, we begin to see her develop more and more. We witness and understand the sadness, as well as the shock that she goes through her when she starts to realize that, due to all of these excessive bouts of sickness, she’s starting to lose those around her that she considers loved-ones and friends. What’s perhaps most interesting about Haynes’ direction here, is that he not only doesn’t give us much about Carol, but also doesn’t give us anymore to know about these fellow characters surrounding her, either – they are, in retrospect, just as much of a mystery to us, as they may be to Carol.

And as Carol, it’s definitely worth stating that, as expected, Julianne Moore is great, but it’s a relatively different role for her. For one, it’s not very showy; rather than getting a plethora of scenes dedicated to where she just constantly yells, rants and raves about her disease and the issues she’s having with it, Carol is much more subdued and written-down, which probably works best for her, in all honesty. It’s best that Carol, the character, doesn’t need to spell everything out for us to get the clear picture that yes, she’s feeling terrible and most of all, not doing so well in life.

But because Moore is such a good actress, she channels all of these emotions of sadness and despair in such a way that, despite us not really knowing much about Carol apart from her disease she’s been struck with, it’s hard not to feel a little heartbroken because of it. Moore lost a bunch of weight for this role and because of that, you get the sense that Carol could literally pass-out or fly away at any second; she’s clearly not in the right head-space to enjoy anything about life, so why would she actually continue to keep up with her original diet? But gimmicks aside and all, Moore is superb here and it’s no surprise why she decided to work with Haynes again on Far From Heaven and I’m Not There, as the two seem to bring out the best within one another.

While I’m on the subject of Carol, though, I do think that now is the best opportunity to discuss a problem I found with Safe that kept me away from actually loving it a whole lot more than I should have, and it was its discussion of the disease itself.

How I feel whenever I come home and literally have nothing to do.

How I feel whenever I come home and literally have nothing to do. Except Netflix, of course.

You know, the one where you’re literally allergic to everything surrounding you.

Believe it or not, it’s actually a real disease, which is why it’s so interesting to see someone, let alone, a person like Carol, go through it all and come to grips with all of the side effects of the said disease. What’s perhaps most interesting about is the discussion that Haynes seems to bring up with the disease: Is Carol really sick? Or, is she just another lonely housewife looking for attention? And also, even if the disease is real, does it take physical-form that carries on from one body to another? Or, does it all exist in somebody’s head and the only way for a person to get rid of the disease is to make themselves feel better and more sane?

I’m honestly still battling with myself just what party Haynes sticks with and it’s actually a bit disappointing. In the later-half of the movie, Haynes dives in deep into the idea of therapy as rehabilitation and it’s not only interesting, but also quite smart. However, he seems to just leave it there for us, the audience, to pick up on and it feels like a bit of a cheat. It’s almost as if Haynes himself seemed like he had something to say about this disease, but knew that he’d piss some people off by doing so, so instead, just allowed for it all to play-out as normal as humanly possible. Once again, have no problem with this, but I would have definitely liked to seen more about the disease and what it actually is.

Especially considering that, you know, when’s the next time someone’s going to make a movie about a person with MCS.

Consensus: Anchored by an amazing performance, but never over-done performance from Julianne Moore, Safe feels like the kind of real-life thriller that’s intriguing to watch and dissect, even if there are certain style-contrivances holding it back from reaching that pure level of excellence.

8 / 10

Yep. Still not getting any better. Sorry, hon.

Yep. Still not getting any better. Sorry, hon.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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